Thinking Anglicans

To fly where truth and light do lie

As we kneel on Ash Wednesday to allow a cross to be traced on our foreheads in the ashes of last year’s palm crosses, Isaiah uncomfortably reminds us that we could be missing the point of Lenten observance.

Percy Dearmer’s paraphrase in his carol ‘White Lent’ brings the message home.

To bow the head, in sackcloth or in ashes, or rend the soul, such grief is not Lent’s goal;
but to be led to where God’s glory flashes, his beauty to come nigh,
to fly where truth and light do lie.

Lent is a time to draw closer to God and be transformed by the experience, discerning, as Dearmer puts it, God’s beauty. Dearmer is of course most remembered for his delight in beauty: beauty in worship, through The Parson’s Handbook, and in music, through The English Hymnal and Songs of Praise. But he was also a lifelong socialist who gave up his parish during the First World War to be a chaplain to the Red Cross in Serbia, where his wife, who had gone to work with their ambulance unit, died of fever. For the next 15 years he had no church appointment, but after being made a canon of Westminster in 1931 he used the position to open a canteen for the unemployed.

The socialist Dearmer would have appreciated Isaiah’s charge against the people of God (38.3) ‘Look, you serve your own interest on your fast-day, and oppress all your workers.’ And the prophet’s warnings appear designed for today when he calls us to ‘share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house’. Isaiah has a firm conviction that we come closer to God through social action than through any act of piety.

The mood Dearmer’s carol creates fits perfectly with Jesus’s advice ‘Do not look dismal’. However sombre a mood we try to create by removing displays of flowers from our churches and veiling anything which might delight the eye, nature will not be denied. Successive waves of spring bulbs assure us that the darkness of winter is over, and new life is emerging. It calls us to thankfulness, and with it, the response of our love in action.

I wish you a joyful and blessed Lent.

Tom Ambrose is a priest in the diocese of Ely.

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Susannah ClarkFather Ron SmithFr John E. Harris-WhiteChaplain BunyanPam Recent comment authors
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Rosemary Hannah
Rosemary Hannah

Oh that just nails it perfectly

Adrian Judd
Adrian Judd

Very nice Tom. Short, sweet and pithy.


Thanks, Tom. A joyful and blessed Lent to all.

Chaplain Bunyan
Chaplain Bunyan

At our hospital chapel here in Sydney Diocese (where in most churches neither Ash Wednesday nor Lent be observed), at Holy Communion we read from Isaiah 58 for the Lesson – which, as noted here, has a very good message for the whole of Lent, with the usual S.Matthew Gospel. Jesus I think was talking about the MOTIVES of some who displayed their religion for the wrong reasons in his day. Of the many people, especially staff, who received the ashes here today (in chapel services and in the wards) I don’t think anyone received them for that wrong reason.… Read more »

Fr John E. Harris-White
Fr John E. Harris-White

Thank you for you positive contribution. Percy Dearmer had it so right. But through the years I am reminded of those good folk who have come in sackcloth and ashes to let me overhear their confession, and gone away with the Light of Christ in theirs eyes and hearts,.
This Lent I am rejoicing in the SSJE American house Lenten course on the 5 Marks of Love, based on the 5 Marks of Mission of the Anglican Communion. Positive, challenging, and uplifting.

Fr John West Lothian. Scotland

Father Ron Smith

Thank, Fr. Tom, for your lovely reflection.

Thank you, also, Chaplain Bunyan, for your note on the observation of Ash Wednesday in a Sydney Hospital – a great witness in a barren land of Anglican observation generally.

Thank you, Father John – a good Episcopal rite in Scotia.

Susannah Clark

I think there’s a difference between demonstrative acts of piety, designed as religious expression for all to see, and the private piety that seeks to strip layers off ourselves in meeting God in the wilderness places (which of course include the wilderness places of social injustice, raw poverty, loneliness and abandonment). I don’t think anyone should regard the time of Lent as a cessation of social service of those in need. As Jesus has been reported to say: when you clothed me, when you fed me etc. At the same time, in preparation for the high sacrifice and resurrection of… Read more »