The Turn of the (Monastic) Year

Tonight after Vespers we enter the monastic ‘Little Lent’, a period that lasts until Lent itself begins. Throughout this period, Fridays are set aside as days when we fast and maintain a more complete silence than usual. They are desert days in the midst of autumn fuitfulness; days out of time during the winter cold. The simplification of life that these Fridays bring is always welcome, although I must admit that when it is very cold one does seem to spend more time thinking about the next meal than is quite proper! Everyone needs some desert time in their lives, but it is a mistake to think that it means going somewhere special or making a huge change in one’s routine. Some can do that, but many cannot. Our change of gear is barely perceptible to outsiders. What matters is the renewed focus on things of the Spirit; the intentional simplification of food and drink in order to be more attentive to him; the interior and exterior quietness — always ready to be interrupted for another’s need but carefully guarded from self-indulgent chat and gossip. These are not heroic things but they mark the monastic turn of the year as surely as the blackberries in our hedgerows or the fields of golden stubble all around. Paradoxically, they are part of the fruitfulness of asceticism, for without asceticism there can be no love.