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This Lent is so lenty

Every Lent has been lenty for me without even really trying. My first husband, Pete, a lovely, prayerful, creative and committed young priest died on Ash Wednesday thirty-one years ago. And although the days of Easter change with the full moon every year, likely as not, the day of Pete’s anniversary falls in Lent.

For many years, that was quite enough Lent for me. I had quite enough of the wilderness raising two tiny children single-handed and keeping the family ship afloat. I didn’t want to get involved with the whole having-to-suffer bits of Lent as well, thank-you. I used to long for Easter and the relief of the tension, the lightening of the mood, the stone rolled away metaphorically from the pain every year of the loss and the longing.

As I’ve said, Pete was a priest. He had a deep and gentle faith which was tested to its limits during four relentless years of hospitalisations, operations and medical interventions. And as I hung on in there with him, taking our babies to meet him in a side ward whenever he was well enough, teaching him to walk again alongside our baby daughter taking her first tentative steps, holding his hands when he couldn’t talk, and touch was all that could speak, I really wasn’t sure where God was in all this. He didn’t seem to be on the ward when the curtains were drawn around a bed when some poor soul didn’t make it, or in the waiting room where I sat taut as a violin string as the doctor came in to tell me Pete’s latest results. And God certainly wasn’t around on that Christmas Eve when a crowd of well-meaning earnest choristers sang ‘Silent Night’ around the bed and I hurt so much, I wanted to punch their lights out.

But then Pete died and I inscribed on his gravestone, ‘Christ is risen’ because I knew he believed that totally, and somewhere deep deep down where the sun doesn’t shine, I wanted to believe it too. Otherwise – what else was there?

And Lent went on being lenty but Easter always came and Christ was risen.

I’ve always found it hard to believe what I can’t see. Call me Doubting Thomasina if you like but I could give that disciple a run for his money.

Then this morning, feeling very lenty as I contemplated how rubbish I am at doing Lent, I decided to go for a walk with Richard, my second husband. Sometimes life – or God throws us big second chances. Being with Richard doesn’t stop me remembering Pete, but now I share my life with a brilliant, funny, thoughtful, generous bald-headed bloke who is also a fantastic drummer and can whip up pasta for ten soon as look at you. I am one lucky lady.

So, we set out, dressed for Kilimanjaro even though we were only going three miles from home, when we were stopped by our neighbour who is having some building work done. He was talking to a guy wearing the badge of the local water authority and holding what looked like two thin copper stair rods.

‘Come and look at this,’ he said.

The stair rod guy, obviously used to a bit of an audience was gratified to have one happen along so quickly. He held his arms out straight in front of him and took a few steps toward us. Almost immediately the rods swung together and crossed each other.

‘Water’ said my neighbour with deep satisfaction.

‘I’ve got two thousand pounds worth of equipment here,’ said Mr Water Authority, ‘and they don’t find water anything like as well as these do.’ And he demonstrated their power once again just to make sure we understood.

I was stunned. I’d heard of water divination, but never really believed in it. I put it down to the fantasy of old wives’ tales – like eating your crusts will make your hair curl or sitting too close to the fire will melt your marrow. (Sorry if I’ve just spoiled your day). But, you know, I saw this with my own eyes! I now believe in water divination and no-one, NO-ONE can tell me it’s not real.

That’s how I feel about my spiritual journey. I’ve been living my life in Lent – feeling lenty most of the time as a Christian – longing for the renewal, the warmth, the delight that comes with believing, with knowing, with belonging, but finding it always at the tip of my fingers, just out of reach.

But as I saw those rods cross themselves and I believed they found water, so I now believe that Easter will bring an end to Lent and Christ will be risen. He will be risen indeed and no-one will tell me it’s not real.

And I am holding on to that in this lentiest of Lents.

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