Lent: Hearing God’s Word Afresh

Perhaps as Lent approaches you may be wondering what you will give up? What might be a stretching act of self-discipline, yet also something within the realm of possibility? I remember when I was about eight years old deciding – somewhat virtuously – to deny myself the comfort of television, and lasting only a matter of hours!

Conversely, a few years ago I took the bold step of giving up smoking. After the initial pangs of self-doubt, nervousness and agitation, the feelings transformed through the days into an increasing sense of freedom. After many years of associating much of my identity and security with a particular routine, I gained a chance to shift patterns of behaviour and to embrace new ways of spending time with others and on my own.

This experience of quitting smoking helped me to see a dimension of relinquishing habits that I hadn’t recognised previouslyThis experience of quitting smoking helped me to see a dimension of relinquishing habits that I hadn’t recognised previously. Aside from the obvious health and financial benefits, I was given an opportunity to experience life in fresh and exciting ways. The food I ate became tastier and my social time became more people-focused. Car journeys were no longer measured in fag breaks! The shift toward simplicity reinvigorated key areas of my daily life.

This Lent, I’m mindful once again of the way in which my attitudes need refreshing and reinvigorating. As we’re marked with the ashes on our foreheads, we’ll be challenged to ‘repent and believe the good news.’ This season of repentance invites us to re-examine how we hear the invitation of Christ in our lives. How might we kindle the small flame of our Lenten sacrifice into a burning fire for the Scriptures? How might we hear God’s word afresh this season?

Lectio Divina

Last August, I was privileged to be able to attend World Youth Day in Madrid alongside hundreds of thousands of young Catholics. As well as participating in some of the major events, I was able to spend some time with a team from Latin America who were sharing Lectio Divina with the young pilgrims. The team were working on a project called Lectionautas, which is a joint initiative between the United Bible Societies and CELAM (the Latin American Episcopal Conference.)

Whilst I had participated in Lectio Divina experiences before, these workshops were a fresh reminder of the power of the Scriptures to speak to groups of Catholics as they met to read, meditate, pray, contemplate and respond to God. Many of the participants told me of the difference that Lectio Divina groups had made to their faith, as they sought to hear God’s voice in the Scriptures, and to meet together to support one another in this endeavour. Often, their stories tellingly combined spiritual change with social change. I watched in amazement as Brother Richard – a former gang member – led the group from Paraguay through a 45 minute session, followed by a hip hop rap which thanked God for the gift of the Bible!

Whilst rapping friars might not be your expectation of Lectio Divina, this prayerful reading of Scripture might be a way to encounter the word afresh this Lent. To help if you don’t know where to start, United Bible Societies have developed a cycle of weekly gospel Lectio Divina reflections that help explore the Gospel from each Sunday’s Mass. These are available to download from the ‘free resources’ section of the Bible Society website at www.biblesociety.org.uk

Alternatively, an ecumenical approach to Lectio Divina is explored in the lyfe resource. These 36 themed sessions are easy-access in their approach, encouraging participants to read the text together, to share their questions and insights, and to commit to a shared action together at the conclusion of the session. Specifically developed with young adults in mind, these sessions are free to download and supported by further video material at www.lyfe.org.uk  

You’ve Got the Time

The very practical outcome of giving things up is that – more often than not – it frees up time! Whether you’re spending less time at the kettle, or not detouring via the sweetshop on the way back from work, you may well find that you have a few extra minutes in your daily schedule.

You’ve Got the Time is a unique way of filling those extra minutes this Lent, which could help you to grow in your understanding and appreciation of the New Testament. The resource contains 40 audio files which you can easily download onto your computer (and then on to an Mp3 player), which contains the New Testament spoken from start to finish!

The text is read by the Riding Lights Theatre Company, a group of around 30 talented actors. Their enthusiasm and skill bring the words alive by using different regional accents and ingenious ways of dividing the text into manageable chunks. It certainly won’t be the kind of approach that you will have experienced before!

I undertook the programme last year, and found the process of listening to You’ve Got the Time a transformative encounter. I had been used to listening to readings of Scripture at Mass, but hearing around 20 minutes worth each day over 40 days of Lent opened my ears to how the overall stories flow together, and how certain themes emerge strongly in different parts of the New Testament. The very practical outcome of giving things up is that – more often than not – it frees up time!In particular, hearing the three Synoptic Gospels over a couple of weeks demonstrated the strength of Jesus’ preaching of the Kingdom to me in a very tangible way.

You’ve Got the Time is available as a free download from www.biblesociety.org.uk/ygtt - just register your details and click to download.

Court of the Gentiles

Giving up smoking didn’t just enliven my personal life, but also the ways in which I was available for others. Similarly, whilst Lenten fasting might create an opportunity to re-examine our prayerful reading of Scripture, it also gives us a chance to look at how we live out our engagement with God’s word in our everyday lives.

Recently, Pope Benedict has been speaking about the ‘Court of the Gentiles.’ By this, he is referring to the Temple space where Jews were able to mingle freely with non-Jews, promoting dialogue and fostering communication. In hearing this challenge, a question for each of us this Lent might be to consider where we might bring God’s word into dialogue with those who may not share our beliefs.

Whilst a good deal of our work at Bible Society is focused overseas, I work on part of a team that seeks to encourage public dialogue around the Bible and issues of faith here in the UK. In some areas of society, this voice is already heard, but in other instances, there are many opportunities to grow in confidence as we speak about God’s concern for all of humanity – including the poor, the marginalized, the oppressed and the excluded - articulated throughout the Scriptures.

David Oyelowo (rt) presents Rob McLellan with the 2011 Pitch film competition award. © Bible Society, Mark Sherratt.Our team works in a wide variety of ways. We invite artists, musicians and filmmakers of all faiths and none to look again at the Bible as a source of inspiration. We run competitions, host awards, and provide resources and networks of support. Through this work, we have encouraged artists with no experience of Christian faith to develop truly meaningful plays, films and artwork based on Scriptural themes.

One of our educational projects, www.crossref-it.info, is a website developed specifically to help A Level English Literature students and teachers discover more about the philosophical and religious ideas that formed the cultural background of many works of great literature. In this site, we’re bringing a brief and unthreatening introduction to Scripture when people are looking for help in identifying a context and meaning unfamiliar to them.

These initiatives are somewhat on a grand scale, but how might you as an individual or as a parish community take up the challenge to become messengers of God’s word to others around you this Lent?

Experiencing God’s Word afresh

As we wonder, then, what to give up during this season, perhaps an equally good question to ask might be: why are we giving something up this Lent? In our fasting and reflection on the self-sacrifice of Christ, perhaps we might also make ourselves available to experience God’s word afresh through the prayerful reading of the Bible, the challenge to listen to Scripture in a new way, and the challenge to demonstrate God’s word to those all around us.

Article by Matthew van Duyvenbode, Bible Advocacy Officer, Bible Society

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