How To Do Lent by Bro Duncan PBGV

Lent is a very simple business. It is human beans who try to make it complicated. I think the main problem is that you all talk too much. You have too many words! Dogs have no words, but we do have language. From the tip of our nose to the end of our tail, we are all doggy expressiveness. That is very important when it comes to prayer. I don’t say extra prayers like some of you human beans, I just pray. I look at God; he looks at me; and everything is tickety-boo. He knows I love him, and when he sees me stretched out before the altar or prowling round Them while They sing the Divine Office, he knows I’m happy just to be with him, which is all he really wants — our being with him, and being happy.

Fasting is a bit of a toughie for a dog. We were made to be easy to please and it is in our nature to scoff everything in sight. But we do our bit during Lent by being grateful for our daily rations and showing our gratitude by going into ecstasy when the same, boring old kibble plops into our feeding-bowl. We don’t need elaborate plans for giving up X or Y. We have no choice; and it is only because human beans have choice that you  get so complicated about it. I sometimes want to say, ‘Don’t waste time thinking about how good you are to be giving up sweets, try a bit of self-forgetfulness and gratitude instead. Grace before and after meals is much better than chocolate.’ Mind you, it wouldn’t hurt some of you to cut back and give what you save to your local Food Bank, but do it because you love God and other people, not because you want to get your waistline in better shape. (Dogs are much better for that, anyway: walkies is good for you as well as us.)

Finally, almsgiving. Now that I’m getting old and grey(ish), I realise that this is simple, too. Yes, if you can, there are lots of opportunities for human beans to be of service to one another, but sometimes just being with someone is a gift in itself. I know that whenever I accompany BigSis to the hospital, I cheer lots of people up just by trotting along beside her. They seem to find me comical, for some reason. And when visitors come to the house, I give them my very special PBGV look, then they don’t feel lonely or sad any more. There are lots of lonely and sad human beans in the world, and they aren’t all lucky enough to have a dog to be friendly with. See what you can do instead.

So, that’s that. Lent in three easy steps. Or, how to be good made easy. 😉



Preparing for Lent 2016: the Poverty Bill

Yesterday I posted on Facebook a couple of links to resources on this blog and our main web site about preparing for Lent (see below). This morning I’d like to mention a monastic practice that others beyond the monastery may find useful: the poverty bill.

Once a year every nun draws up a list of everything she has in her room or for her own use and submits it to the superior or, in the case of the superior, to another nun. It encompasses everything and acts as a check on any tendency to luxury or excess. You’d be surprised how easy it is to start the year with, say, two biros and end with twelve! Here at Howton Grove we take it further. Every year we assess what we think we genuinely need to live a monastic life and be of service to others. Anything we regard as excessive or anything we haven’t used in the past year is scrutinised and usually either given away or sold and the proceeds put to better use. Of course, that isn’t true of every single item. We didn’t use our fermenting bin to make apple wine last year, but we may this year; so it will stay. And I regret to say there is still stuff we haven’t unpacked from our Hendred years which needs a similar scrutiny.

The point is, this annual check on possessions is a very good way of bringing some reality into our Lenten observance. It is easy to make a nominal sacrifice of some food or trifling self-indulgence; it is easy to make a small donation to Oxfam or some other good cause; it is even easy(ish) to add some prayer or reading to our regular routine; but to cast a ruthless eye over what we have, and make decisions about what we really need, takes a certain amount of steeliness and generosity. It is not merely a stripping away but also, and more importantly, a giving to others. Otherwise it is just ‘decluttering’, which can be selfish, a way of organizing space just how we want it with no thought of anyone’s good but our own.

So, as we prepare for Lent and think about the form our prayer, fasting and almsgiving should take, may I suggest spending a few moments thinking about our everyday surroundings, the things we have, the things we may not even notice so accustomed have we become to their presence, and ask ourselves whether we are putting them to good use and whether there is a better use still.

If you would like some more suggestions about Lent, these two links may be helpful:

The first is fairly general:

The second pulls together various resources on fasting, prayer, almsgiving, etc.


Making a Good Holy Week

If Lent seems to have passed you by in a blur of good intentions you meant to get round to but never actually did; if you feel your prayer has been non-existent, your fasting a failure, your almsgiving embarrassing by its absence, do not despair. It is not too late to turn to the Lord and make a good Holy Week.

What do I mean by a good Holy Week? First and foremost, I’d say it is one in which we try to follow in the footsteps of Christ as best we can and in union with the whole Church. Some people do so by an imaginative entry into the events we recall in the major celebrations of this week, beginning with Palm Sunday. I have to admit that has never been my way. For me, it will be a slow, meditative reading of the scriptures the Church places before us that will be my point of entry, so to say — above all the reading of the Last Discourse that takes place just before Compline. Our monastic liturgy reverts to a very ancient form this week. We chant almost everything on a plaintive monotone, and our domestic liturgy, the fasting and the ceremonies we enact in the refectory, take on a peculiarly solemn cast. A secular counterpart might be very plain meals, not to deprive ourselves of good things but to impress on us that this is a special time, the Great Week of the Year; and any money saved should most certainly be given to the poor. Above all, taking part in all the great celebrations if we can — Maundy Thursday, Good Friday, the Easter Vigil — is the best way we can make this a good Holy Week in union with the whole Church.

At a personal level, I think we make a good Holy Week by confessing our sins, making reparation where we can and resolving, with God’s grace, to do better in the future. If there is anyone we have wronged, we must try to put it right. One area everyone reading this might examine is their online conduct. Have we commented unkindly or used Social Media to condemn or belittle others? Have we imputed base motives to others or assumed we knew, and were in a position to judge, their motivation? That is certainly relevant when there is a General Election in the offing: we can sin against politicians just as we can sin against anyone else! But we must not let such an examination of our own conduct make us focus on ourselves. This is a week when we look only to Jesus. He is our Saviour. Let us keep our eyes on him and follow wherever he leads.