Starter (The Week of Ash Wednesday)
The annual professional food photographers’ international competition is a feast for the eyes. In a photograph of anchovies swimming in champagne, you can almost feel the fizz in your mouth as each bubble sparkles. It competes with one of mussels lit up in a heavenly haze. Jean-Louis Bloch-Laine, France’s leading food photographer, says “culinary photography is no longer there simply to show what the meal should look like but to whet the appetite, to transport the taste into the mind.”
That’s just as true of presenting a meal as it is of photographing it. Any chef or cook wants to create a meal that looks as well as tastes good. But visual gorgeousness isn’t enough. A meal which is presented with every attention to aesthetic detail yet tastes indifferent leaves the diner unsatisfied. Ancient wisdom remains valid – the proof of the pudding is in the eating.
During Lent, Christians remember Jesus going into the desert. He wanted time to review the various ingredients that might make up his life and decide what God wanted him to create out of them. The wrestling and struggle he experienced there gave him integrity. What people saw in him reflected who he was inside.
Lent is a time for us to review what makes up our lives. The choices we make, how we live, love and grow, what we long for, are some of the ingredients. This book will encourage us in the coming days to savour again those things which make our lives taste good. But it’ll also remind us that what we serve up in our lives can’t just rely on the ingredients or good presentation. We want to create from what we’ve been given lives of integrity and depth, lives which give us, and offer others, a real taste of what’s good about living.
Read: O taste and see that the Lord is good. (Psalm 34.8)
Rejoice: that our lives present us with so many experiences to learn from.
Reflect: Is there anything about me that’s more show than substance?
Remember: that God understands my inner strivings and can help me make the best of them.
Resolve: to notice what’s going on inside me as well as how I feel on the surface.
At some Tesco stores, you can now keep fit and shop at the same time. New trolleys can be programmed to make them harder to push, raising the heartbeat and exercising muscles in the legs, arms and stomach. The trolley handle tells you how fast your heart is beating to make sure you don’t literally shop till you drop. Tesco are waiting to discover the public reaction before investing further in the new trolleys.
Killing two birds with one stone is a popular pastime today. It has even developed its own terminology – multi-tasking. Some learn, often of necessity, to do it extremely well but it does represent a trend which is a feature of our busy modern lifestyle. Trying to fit everything in, we get pulled in many different directions. We can lose ourselves in the plethora of different activities that occupy our days.
Jesus recommended that we focus on one thing in our lives – he said it should be to work for the kind of world God wants – and everything else would follow. Having such a guiding purpose that motivates the wide variety of occupations we engage in can bring us a unity and more relaxed harmony.
Lent is a good time to affirm the fundamental focus of our lives. No doubt we will need to continue multi-tasking and maybe making time for reflection is among our routine tasks. But perhaps in these coming weeks, we might give some time to doing just one thing – reflecting on becoming the people and creating the world God wants. Such a use of this Lent will enable us to listen to our hearts, not just so we don’t keep going till we drop, but so that we connect again with what ultimately motivates us.
Read: Strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be given to you as well (Matthew 6.33)
Rejoice: in the variety of tasks every day brings
Reflect: Am I using busy-ness to protect myself from any feelings that I might be more in touch with if I stopped?
Remember: that God recognises how hard it can be to get everything done and that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t.
Resolve: to live today noticing the ways in which the different things I do contribute to God’s work in the world.
Young Laura Barton was given a hamster as a present. Travelling home in the car, the rodent chewed a hole in his cardboard box, dived into the foot well and disappeared behind the dashboard. Laura’s mother tried to coax the hamster from his hiding place but he preferred to remain out of reach and nibble the carpet and wiring. ‘He kept popping his head out to see what all the fuss was about but as soon as we tried to grab him he ducked down again,’ she said.
Searching for something which eludes us is a common facet of our daily lives. Sometimes it’s something important like a major decision where the right solution just doesn’t seem to be at hand. Sometimes it’s something more minor like finding the right present for someone or the answer to a crossword clue. In such situations, it’s not unusual to feel that the answer is cheekily popping its head out but we just can’t grasp it.
There is something elusive too about our relationship with God. Our attempts to understand God’s ways and to live consciously in God’s presence are often fraught with an awareness that there is more to be experienced if only we could just lay our hands on it. However deep our faith already is, the tantalising sense that there is yet more just around the corner frustrates but also motivates us.
Eventually the AA came, unscrewed the dashboard and captured the hamster, now named Bob after his rescuer. Not everything elusive is recovered so easily. When, as in these coming days, we give particular attention to our own lives and to God, we may feel frustrated by not quite being able to lay our hands on an idea, thought or decision. If so, let’s be aware that God uses many different ways of pointing us the right way. What’s asked of us is that we persevere in reaching out for what we can’t quite yet apprehend.
Read: As a deer longs for flowing steams, so my soul longs for you, O God….When shall I behold your face? (Psalm 42.1,2)
Rejoice: that our delight in exploring God’s generosity and personality need never be exhausted.
Reflect: Are there any inner promptings in me which I’m ignoring because I can’t see where they’re leading?
Remember: that if we miss something God wants to put our way, he’ll try again.
Resolve: always to be looking for new insights into God and myself.
York and Swansea are among the towns that now have streetcars. They’re up-market buses, it’s true, but they don’t quite reach the state-of-the-art heights of some of the prototypes. These were painted lilac to ‘appeal to female travellers’(sic) and had futuristic snub noses and low-slung floors. They were lit by spotlights, with shaded areas for those who want to snooze, and had more single seats as well as lounge-style curved seating in the rear. They even had devices fitted which turned traffic lights to green when they approached and a text messaging service to alert passengers when the service was due to arrive at their stop. Its operators were to be banned from describing it as a ‘bus’; yet, for all its ostentatious dressing up, that is indubitably what it remained.
Jesus had little time for pomposity. He saw through religious or wealthy people who paraded their outward excellence but hid their real selves. He preferred the company of those who did not hide the reality of their lives – the tax gatherer, the prostitute, the religious outcast. He never surrounded himself with anything or anyone pretentious. He came to people with nothing more than who he was and died stripped of everything else.
Any temptation we feel to put on airs probably comes from the need to boost our own confidence. We may feel we are not very exciting when we’re just being natural. We may fear that people won’t like us as we are so we create a persona we think they will warm to. Spending time reflecting on our lives this Lent will renew our confidence that we have more to offer than we think. The most courageous thing, and the most effective, is to be ourselves. There’s enough for us to be proud of there without us needing to pretend to be someone different.
Read: Jesus said: Truly I tell you this poor widow has put in more than all of them…she has put in all she has. (Luke 21.3-4)
Rejoice: in the aspects of my personality I like.
Reflect: In what contexts am I most likely to hide my real self? Why is that?
Remember: that people who came into contact with Jesus and spent time with him seemed to become more confident in themselves.
Resolve: to share God’s delight in who I am.