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Reform Magazine | October 23, 2017

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On the pilgrim way: “Lent seems a recipe for self-absorption”

maxeySheila Maxey fights self-absorption in Lent

I am a bit wary of Lent and its call to self-examination and repentance. It seems either a recipe for self-absorption or for depression. Rowan Williams, speaking in St Paul’s during Advent – another such season, urged us to give time and honesty to that very task. However, Williams was at pains to stress that the only safe context for such self-examination must be God’s overwhelming, incredible love for each one of us – love which cannot be earned, or deserved, or begged for. So I will dare a little.

I have been noticing lately that I have become peripheral to my children and grandchildren’s lives. Perhaps that is so obvious it does not need saying – but it has required a bit of honest self-examination on my part. It has nothing to do with a lack of love on their part – or of concern. In fact, their concern is part of becoming peripheral. I know that, following a visit to one daughter, she will be on the phone to the other one to discuss how we were.

When our children were young, I saw myself as the lynchpin of the family. I thought I knew just what each one was doing each day and planned the logistics of music lessons, swimming lessons, homework, trips to museums etc. I now know, from our grownup children, that I did not in fact know all about their lives – and am rather relieved I did not!

As a local minister I also thought I was the lynchpin of the two congregations I worked with – although I knew I should not think like that. I was nevertheless horrified (and amused) to learn that an elders meeting at which I was not present felt therefore unable to take a decision to install urinals in the new men’s toilets.

Those times are long past and now our children are the lynchpins in their own lives. Although I can sometimes bridge the gap to our grandchildren in terms of love of nature, some shared books and music, and going to the pantomime, their world of mobiles, iPads and facebook is largely closed to me. I was thrilled one granddaughter wanted to play Christmas carols on the piano and so I passed on to her The Oxford Book of Carols which my husband had given me for Christmas in 1962. It felt like a significant handing it on to another generation. She thanked me, but was clearly disappointed that the one carol she most wanted to play, “Silent Night”, was not there.

I sound wistful – and probably am – but it is also a relief to loosen my grip on the lives of others and pursue life on the periphery. Richard Rohr, the Franciscan author of Falling Upwards: A spirituality of the two halves of life, describes the place I think I am in (or would like to be?) at the beginning of this Lent: “We move from the driving seat to being a happy passenger … taking our place in the great and general dance.”

Sheila Maxey is Book Reviews Editor for Reform

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This article was published in the February 2016 edition of  Reform.

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