February 22, 2023 | by Bishop Sally Dyck
Today is Ash Wednesday and it starts the Christian season of Lent. Lent is a time when Christians reflect on our mortality and to seek to deepen our spiritual practices. Traditionally Christians have “given up” something for Lent, usually something that brings pleasure, like chocolate!
Recently I watched an old but favorite movie, Chocolat. It’s about a woman chocolatier who moves into a small French village and opens a chocolate store at the beginning of Lent! She’s an outsider to the village. She doesn’t go to church (but then isn’t welcome). She “sees” those who are invisible and unloved or unwanted and befriends them. (And yes, there’s also a romantic twist to the story.)
Her introduction of these delicious, mouth-watering chocolates to the villagers during Lent becomes a major challenge between her and the priest and others who are “giving up” pleasures for Lent including chocolate. But there’s not any “giving up” of some judgmental attitudes and the rejection of those who aren’t accepted in the village whatever reasons. As is the case in real life, our rejection of others usually comes back to our own detriment. But spoiler alert: by Easter there are many hearts strangely warmed! A new attitude in the village exists!
Many Christians have begun to pick a word at the beginning of the calendar year to focus on: hope, peace, or trust (trust would be a good one since there’s a supply shortage these days). The idea is to use that word to frame our daily lives, to look at things a little differently. It’s not a resolution but a perspective.
During the season of Lent, I would like you to consider focusing on the word RELENT. To relent means to soften our hard feelings or temper. God is slow to anger; are we? Some things may be worth our anger, but a lot of things aren’t! To relent means that we bring into focus what is making us angry at the moment and decide if it’s really worth being angry about instead of letting ourselves become so annoyed that we do and say things that are unkind, even hateful, and vengeful. Relent this Lent!
To relent also means to become more compassionate. To be compassionate means to have a softer heart; more empathy toward those who are hurting and therefore not acting out of their best selves. Such persons may be part of our everyday lives or only people we see on the evening news. Usually people we don’t understand. The opposite of being compassionate is to be condemning or judging. So relent this Lent!
To relent also means to become more forgiving. When we say that we want to become better Christians, or more like Jesus, or to have a deeper walk with God, too often we think in terms of doubling down on practices that are external or beliefs alone rather than internal attitudes that exclude instead of include, that perpetuate fear and prejudice rather than openness and acceptance. Relent this Lent!
Relent is a great word, isn’t it? You have to admit that it can have an added nuance: literally to lent again; relent. When we focus on a spiritual practice or in this case a word, hopefully it begins to take root in our thinking, feeling, relating, and being. To relent is to begin and to continue to follow Jesus, to become more like Jesus, in our hearts, in our minds, in our relationships, and in our commitments.
This Lenten season, “Relent! Relent! And again I say, relent!”
I’m going to try!
PS: Movies can move us through their stories to reflect on ourselves a little deeper. Another beautiful movie, like Chocolat, with a similar theme of relenting is Babette’s Feast. Like Chocolat, it tells a story of a village who focuses on external religious practices, like food rather than attitudes of the heart. Watching a group of people gathered around a table (an apt metaphor) relent toward the woman who prepares the feast (and gives her all to them even though they were unrelenting toward her) gives witness to how joy comes when we relent!
Relent! Rejoice! And again I say, relent and rejoice this Lenten season!