I would like to begin this letter with many thanks for all your good wishes and prayers through my recent, yet prolonged illness. They were a great comfort to me and I am pleased to say that I am well on the road to recovery.
With the dreadful weather we have experienced recently - snow, frost, heavy rain and high winds - I was surprised to see some primulas in the front garden in bloom. Pink and yellow amidst the soggy grass. What a cheer they brought to my heart and lifted my spirits, especially as I had been thinking about the coming season of Lent.
This year Lent begins on Ash Wednesday February 22nd. In the Benefice this will be marked with a service at St Mary's Bishopstone at 7pm where those attending are invited to receive the mark of the cross on their foreheads in ash. The ash is made by burning some of last year's Palm Crosses.
Very often Lent conjures up thoughts of struggle, of 'hanging in there', of 'giving things up'. So often we get caught up in negative thoughts and we can get stuck in a rut, our vision is limited. We can look upon Lent as a negative time, a period of days to be got through without chocolate, without wine or some other treat. But having a sense of discipline in our lives can help us put things back in perspective.
What do we learn from giving up chocolate, or whatever our Lenten resolution is? Do we learn that our bodies benefit from this abstinence? Do we catch a glimpse of what it feels like to have no choice but to go without every day of our life? Do we think of fair-trade for those involved in the early stage of gathering the raw material for our bar of chocolate? Do we resolve to donate money we have saved to help such people? Do we thank God for the many blessings he gives us that we so often take for granted? If we can answer 'yes' to these questions then Lent will be a positive time and we shall be changed for the better.
And remember, Lent is not just a time to give something up. We can use the 40 days to create some extra space to do something positive - to explore some of the big questions of life and faith, to spend time with a lonely neighbour; to appreciate God's world and see the beauty he has created, to discover that God is there - around us and with us.
And I know God is with us in the struggle, in the dark and the cold - and will help us overcome. Spring is sprung - thank God for primulas!