One of the ways in which we prepare for Lent in the monastery is to write a Lent Bill*. This is a record of everything we have for our personal use, from books to scissors. It is supposed to be written with complete honesty, e.g. a radio is NOT to be described as ‘a box of wires’, and given to the superior, or in her case, to another nun, to be looked at and, if necessary, changes made. Why do we do this, and how could it help anyone outside a monastery?
The fact is most of us have a tendency to accumulate more than we need. We begin the year with a little token decluttering, but within a very short time one pen has become two, a single pair of shoes has somehow transformed into two or three, and we’d better not say anything about all those items we never really notice in our store cupboards or drawers. Lent is meant to remind us of our total dependence on God but our possessions often hide that fact from us. We rely on them rather than him. Taking a cool look at what we have and assessing it in the light of what we need is a very humbling exercise. During the forty days of Lent we must travel light. It is quite difficult to pray in a room that is over-stuffed with clutter. In the same way, it is difficult to focus on God if we are surrounded with unnecessary abundance.
It would be impractical to suggest that everyone should write a Lent Bill, but we can all reflect on our material possessions and the ways in which they bind us. I would suggest that we go further and reflect on our spiritual possessions, too. Are we a trifle too confident in our own zeal? Or, on the other hand, is there something lacking that we try to hide from ourselves and others because it doesn’t quite fit the image of ourselves that we’d like to have? Before we begin to think about the practices and penances we shall adopt, let’s think about how to start Lent in the right frame of mind. The period before Lent is traditionally known as Shrovetide, when we confess our sins and ask the grace of true amendment. Both the Lent Bill and confession are all about honesty, starting afresh and trusting to God for the outcome. I think they are an excellent way to prepare for Lent itself.
- A Lent Bill is of two parts: the first, which I discuss above, is technically known as a Poverty Bill. The second, the Lent Bill proper, details the penances the individual would like to perform during Lent. I hope to discuss this second aspect tomorrow.