Go back to normal view
New customs are rapidly taking hold among us. In recent years Dry January has become a fashionable corrective to the excesses of December and if that isn’t austere enough, this year over 50000 people committed themselves to keeping a vegan January (Veganuary). I suppose such determination should be applauded yet to me it reveals a poor grasp of times and seasons. January is the month of Epiphany, the hinterland of Christmas, in which, midst the dark and the cold we continue to celebrate the light of Christ revealed among us. The Christmas cake cannot be rushed, and the mince pies, tins of shortbread and bottles of wine are a necessary means of negotiating an otherwise unappealing month. Admittedly, if one has been hard at it since the beginning of December, the thought of several more weeks of rich food and drink might be hard to bear, but then December is mostly Advent, traditionally a season of restraint in preparation for the celebration to come. Candlemas on the 2nd February marks the end of the Christmas / Epiphany cycle. It also heralds the coming of Spring in the old Celtic calendar. Lent is not far away and thoughts naturally turn to the cleansing of body and soul.
It has long been my custom to give up alcohol for Lent. Successfully accomplished, it boosts my self-esteem, makes me brighter and more alert and a bit leaner as well. But a friend of mine recently challenged me on it. Giving up alcohol for Lent, he alleged, is simply a vanity project, with little or no true spiritual benefit. And I have to admit, he has a point. Self-esteem is a delicate thing and must be carefully nurtured, but, is this oft-repeated discipline still a genuine challenge? Is it doing anything to reveal new perspectives on life and faith and the wonders of God’s sustaining grace? Perhaps not. I will nevertheless keep to my discipline but I admit it’s time for something new and of a rather different order. My relationship with food and drink is something I understand very well but there are numerous other dependencies, common to all of us, that are seldom considered and challenged. Recent publicity, not least in the wake of David Attenborough’s series Blue Planet, has heightened awareness of our dependence on disposable plastic much of which is either exported to the Far East for landfill or dumped in the oceans causing incalculable damage to the planet and its eco systems. For years now many of us have thought of ourselves as being responsible citizens because we have got into the habit of sorting our waste into recycling bins. But the shocking truth of what happens to much of this plastic means that we cannot be responsible stewards of God’s Creation until we wean ourselves off it. Surely, it can be done. Until the 1950s there was hardly any disposable plastic. It has proliferated for the sake of convenience to the extent that living a life that is free of disposable plastic is almost impossible. But concerted action can change things and the response from government and some retailers to the outcry following Blue Planet has been encouraging. It’s a start but if it’s to go further it’s important that this issue remains high in public consciousness and that those responsible for policy making feel the pressure.
At the Rectory we have decided that the personal side of Lenten discipline this year will involve cutting our use of disposable plastic. That will mean giving up some things that are only available in plastic packaging. Other things we will try to source differently, not least milk. The return of the milk delivery and the gentle purr of the electric float in the early morning is long overdue. Perhaps you would like to join us in taking the plastic challenge. It will require thought and planning which will make it as least as difficult, if not more so, than traditional abstinences. But hopefully, once undertaken it will make us reflect on our place in, and use, and abuse, of God’s creation. The Christian faith teaches that we are stewards of God’s riches and yet are we truly aware of what we are doing with them? The plastic challenge could be a real eye-opener, a means of enlarging our understanding of repentance, the condition in which we are truly able to receive God’s forgiving and renewing grace. So take the plastic challenge, but don’t be content to keep it simply as a personal discipline. Write to the manufacturers of those items you are giving up. Let them know that you love the product but hate the packaging. Similarly, write to the supermarkets and to our MP, Sir Christopher Chope at The House of Commons, London SW1 A 0AA. He is always keen to know what is prominent in the thoughts of his constituents and every attempt to raise awareness of this critical issue can only be a positive thing. Lent is an annual opportunity to make a difference and to change society beginning at home. It’s an opportunity to be seized and not, like so much that we produce, just wasted.