Amazingly, it is time for our Autumn Newsletter. It seems just a few, brief weeks ago I was putting something together for the Summer edition, feeling very new and wet behind the ears! A summertime later, and both Dawn and I are feeling very much a part of the furniture at St Andrew's and more rooted in Cape Town, although still a little disbelieving that we are actually here. Christmas was a good time with lots of family visiting and helping make the Rectory really feel like home in a way that only lots of family can! We were also thankful for all the Christmas gifts from so many of our St Andrew's family, and if we've failed to say a personal thank you our apologies: with our granddaughter present when we opened gifts we got a little distracted as to what we'd received from whom! Your thoughtfulness is much appreciated.
We head into our Lenten journey as I write: a period of reflection gifting us with an opportunity for renewal as we prepare in expectation for Easter. Christmas a reminder that God is with us, the joy of birth and God present to us in human form; Easter a reminder that life is ever renewing, indestructible, eternal, a powerful meeting of now and eternity. I am struck, year by year, as Lent approaches that I take so much of life and relationship for granted, and how seemingly little indisciplines cause me to miss many opportunities to revel in life's goodness. The occasional early morning walk - in the forest or along the beach - has me marvelling at the beauty of creation at daybreak; prayerful meditation awakens me to the beauty of being in relationship with God; and I am challenged in Lent to renew my commitment to life, to disciplined, creative and focused living.
In his sermon around the Transfiguration last Sunday, Bishop Geoff reflected on how we often equate Lent to Jesus' desert experience and temptations, but that in the light of the Transfiguration it can also be about mountain top experience. Both deserts and mountaintops can be desolate places, but both (if you think of the Great Karoo and Table Mountain) give us distant horizons to contemplate, and mountains give us a different perspective on life in the valley. Desolation is an important liminal space that allows us to see with greater clarity, unencumbered by material and relational and spiritual clutter, and our Anglican tradition of giving something up for Lent is a part of rediscovering this space, reopening ourselves to what is truly important, opening ourselves to loss but also to hope. As Bishop Geoff reflected, simply giving something up for the sake of giving something up has little impact on our lives. It is more about rediscovering balance: material, relational and spiritual. My experience of wealth is that too often it gets in the way, providing more than the necessities to enjoy life, often over-encumbering us with comfort and the responsibilities of comfort. Lent becomes the opportunity to realise afresh that if we remove the flowers from the Church and limit our praise then our worship is no less meaningful, and that some of the trappings we've come to believe to be indispensable to our worship are dispensable. And if we can find the courage, we can begin to apply this to other aspects of our lives, and be renewed. There is that wonderful proverb, that one cannot see the wood for the trees: Lent is an opportunity to see the forest again in all its greatness and beauty.
Autumn is a precursor to Winter, and Lent a precursor to Easter. In the Southern hemisphere this relationship plays out differently to its roots in the North. In Autumn the trees are stripped of their leaves, preparing for hibernation through the Winter months; in Lent we are stripped of our encumbrances, preparing us to hibernate in God's love, to be enshrouded in resurrection, that we may burst into Spring rested and strengthened to serve God and the purposes of God's kingdom. May this Lent and our Easter celebrations be God's gift of renewal and hope to us all!