Lent 2021

Welcome to the Lent 21 postcards project page, this page used to be for project subscribers only, and password protected. I’ve opened it up now that the project is over so that everyone can see it. Please have a read down the page, you may find things there that interest you.

Project subscribers received the postcards in reverse order to the way they appear on this page , I updated it each time a new card was sent out. If you want the authentic experience then you should start at the bottom and work your way up, that’s what they did.

The postcards told a story in sections, about a man who was full of despair until he was surprised by hope. What you’ll find below are some extra bits that the story didn’t include. These were added so folk had plenty to read and think about. This was partly to make the cards useful for people who wanted to share them with online or family groups too.

Resources for Card 5

Well here we are at last – in the final week of Lent 2021, the long run in to Easter. Goodness me but it feels like we’ve been in an extended Lent this year – or perhaps even one that began last year… I don’t know, I’ve lost track of time. I suppose it’s a bit like Narnia, when it was always winter but never Christmas.

As our little Lent story draws to a close we find that the Mirum, the unexpected ‘surprise’ who turned up when ‘The man’ was at such a low ebb, is ready to stay with him forever. Some of us are lucky enough, in our lifetimes, to find a friend who can fill such a role, others find that they go through life feeling alone and misunderstood. That’s a tough experience.

The Christian story of Easter is, as you know, often presented as a story of great triumph – the risen Christ defeating death itself. It is also though a story about loneliness, betrayal, abandonment, and courage in the face of overwhelming adversity. It’s this latter part of the story that I personally find most relatable, and therefore perhaps most compelling.

One of the most commonly recurring mythological figures in Biblical narratives is ‘The Angel’, a character which changes shape according to the needs of the story and the worldview of the writer. The angel is strangely amorphous: a heavenly figure; a messenger; a warrior; a guard; a traveller; a stone mover, a parent to giants and heroes. Whole books are written about angels, the good ones and the bad, their different ranks and purposes, and interestingly belief in angels is one of the mythological aspects of Christian thinking that hasn’t gone away from the public consciousness. One recent survey showed a surprising percentage of atheists still believe in angels. I suppose in this instance the Mirum is kind of an angel figure – appearing out of nowhere with a message and an encouragement, causing an immediate fright, but ultimately bringing good news.

What is interesting about that is that this is a role we can all fill. Each of us can do this, be an angel for others. And that’s not mythology, it’s grounded, practical, reality. “Sometimes, you just need someone who won’t give up on you…” the man thought. And of course that is exactly what many of us need – someone who won’t run off when the going gets tough. To be that person/angel is hard work, too often we rush into these things without considering the cost and come to regret it, it’s worth remembering that although the Mirum was alone, they were also unemployed and had no family commitments! Angels in general are understood to act as part of a group, that way burdens can be shared and people can be kept from feeling overwhelmed.

The challenge for this week, and always, is to be a listener. To take time to listen to others, to hear their pain and frustration without shrinking away or pulling back. This doesn’t mean becoming a doormat, nor does it mean being on call 24 hours a day, it means to give your attention with care and love. When it comes to listening there are lots of subtleties to consider – for instance there’s the importance of listening to yourself too, recognising when you feel something is not right and when you need to reach out to others for help; and the importance of listening beyond the words that someone is saying: what are they trying to express really?

Here are some things to think or talk about this week:

Who listens to me?
Who do I listen to?
Have there been times when I’ve deliberately chosen not to listen?
How does it feel when people don’t listen?
What does it mean to listen to someone beyond the words they’re saying?
Who is the best listener you’ve ever met?
Listening happens with more than just our ears – how do we give our attention and care to others?
Can you think of anyone you have chosen to stop listening to?
Can you think of anyone you perhaps should start listening to?
Do you think it’s easy to listen to yourself?
Some people talk about listening to God, have you tried this? How?

The messages on the front of the five cards that I sent you started off quite positively, but soon the messages seemed to take a miserable tone. Reading them backwards (or from the top downward on this page) reminds us that even when things seem bleak, they can have a positive outcome. That’s something to remember.

Resources for Card 4

Lent seems to go on for a long time, doesn’t it. It’s six weeks, pretty much, a month and a half. It is strange how sometimes six weeks will fly by, and at other times they can really drag. I blame the weather.
When things are tough, though, time can really seem to stretch out, and it can feel like our difficulties will never end. The man in the story is in that sort of place, he has lost all sense of hope and optimism about the future, he feels let down and betrayed, not least by himself.

One message of the Christian season of Lent, though, is that the darkness doesn’t last forever. We go through this long, seemingly interminable, period of waiting and the feelings of loss and abandonment that can go with that waiting. But eventually, eventually, something changes. In our story we’re beginning to get a glimpse of that hope, as the small voice of the Mirum makes the gentle offer to the man ‘I will stay with you…’

Sometimes this is all we need to hear, or know. That we’re not alone, not totally abandoned. There is someone ‘with us’. Typically Christian teaching (and that of other religions) includes the idea that ‘God’ is always with us, never leaving us or abandoning us. One of the interesting things about Christianity is that this isn’t the experience of Lent, where instead Jesus ultimately experiences aloneness, abandoned by his friends and by God too. At one point leading to his capture and killing he asks his friends if they will just stay up with him, but they fall asleep and he’s alone.

Aloneness is a tough thing to experience, and it’s something we all go through in our lives. Knowing that someone is there to support and encourage you in a time like that is so important. Which brings us on to this week’s challenge ‘Encourage someone’, because there are many ways we can be like the Mirum, many ways to be an encourager. Sometimes we can be a bit pushy in our encouragement, can’t we ‘you can do it!’ we yell when someone is really struggling with an impossible task, although that’s well intentioned it’s not always that helpful, so thoughtfulness and gentleness in encouragement is particularly important.

Here are some things to think or talk about this week:

When have I felt really alone?
What was it like to feel so alone?
There are good points and bad points about being alone, how many can you think of?
Have you ever felt encouraged by others? When?
When have you been the recipient of ‘over optimistic’ encouragement?
How many ways can you think of to encourage people?
Can you think of anyone who you could actively encourage?
Do you think that ‘just listening’ is a type of encouragement?

Resources for Card 3

By this point you may have noticed that the messages on the front of these cards haven’t quite maintained the merry tone of the first card. There’s a (good) reason for that: This is, in part at least, a Lent journey – a voyage into the darkness of sorrow and sadness. A path we all have to walk at times. But its also a reminder of the fact that we don’t always experience the mountain tops and the valleys of life separately. Very often we experience them simultaneously, good things happen when we’re walking through a difficult time, just as bad things can come along when we’re riding the crest of a wave. The front of the card tells us one thing, the rear of the card another, and yet they’re the same card. We have to somehow learn to live with this mixture of ups and downs and their unpredictable nature.

But of course this postcard series is also a story, and now we know it’s partly a story about a Mirum, which is to say a surprise. I imagine that we’ve all had Mirum moments, big or small: moments when hope or encouragement has come from an unexpected place or person. When that happens it seems to have all the more power because we weren’t looking for it. It sneaked up and surprised us. Cheeky little rascal.

Surprises like that are a cosmic gift, or perhaps rather they are a very personal gift. A moment when something special is shared from one to another. On their own they may not be enough to ‘live on’ as such, but they can certainly help to give us a boost at a time of difficulty. I certainly know that feeling of an unexpected ‘Mirum’ when things were looking bleak.

So this week’s challenge is to ‘Give someone a gift’, which is basically a reminder that we too can be the Mirum, we can be the one who does the unexpected kind thing; the one who remembers someone who feels forgotten; the thoughtful one. We can be the one who appears out of nowhere with the unlooked for blessing. The person who leaves a box of scones on someone’s doorstep (not in the rain). The one who sends a little text of encouragement. The thing that goes largely unrecognised about being that person is that actually it’s often a very rewarding experience: giving can often be just as good as getting. Sometimes its better to be honest. As always, be aware of what you’re doing – count the cost, beware of grand gestures, know your limits.

Here are some things to think or talk about this week:

When have I been the recipient of an unexpected gift?
How does it feel when I receive something unexpected like that?
When have I been able to be the giver of an unexpected gift?
How does it feel when I give something to someone like that?
Sometimes we ignore it when we know, or feel, that someone would really benefit from just a little gesture of kindness, there are lots of reasons we might do that – are they all bad?
When someone says ‘a gift’ we often think of a ‘thing’ but there are gifts which aren’t material things – what other kind of gifts can we give?
What is the best gift I can give?

Resources for Card 2

I was thinking about this story the other day, and how I might describe it to someone who had no idea what I was on about, and I realised that I think of it as a kind of fairy tale – in the best sense. This week the man who has lost all hope has sunk into the deepest sort of despair, and my guess is that we’ve all been somewhere similar once or twice: ‘seriously… why am I so useless at EVERYTHING…!?” Failure is a constant part of the human condition, it is part of what makes us who we are. We mess up.

It is precisely at times of that sort, when we feel at our lowest, that we need friendship. But unfortunately it is also when we are most difficult to befriend. Some times we curl into a ball like a hedgehog and all anyone experiences of us is the prickles. Or perhaps we project our anger and frustration outwards instead of inwards, and lash out at the unkind world in impotent rage. Some people, and I’m a bit like this really, try and deny our anger, disappointment or upset, and project an exterior of calmness and serenity – as if we don’t need any kind of support at all – all the while trying to deal with the fact that we do need support really.

So the challenge this week is apparently simple: ‘Be a friend’. I say apparently simple, because of course it’s really quite complex, friendship requires rather a lot from us at times. It requires us to set aside our own interests in favour of others, it requires us to listen without rushing to speak, it requires precious time, often when we want to give it away the least. Sometimes it requires a bit of brutal honesty, when you know someone knows to hear something that they don’t want to hear… a tough task. So as you think about ways to be a friend, you might like to consider: who might need a friend at the moment? What resources do you have that you could ‘spend’ on the gift of friendship? (Think beyond material resources). Who might need you to just listen to them? Who might need a little piece of gentle honesty? Are you prepared to be perceived as ‘the baddy’ if necessary? What I call ‘hit and run friendship’ has value, that’s for sure, but long term committed, costly, often friendship requires more from us. Think hard about what capacity you have to give – don’t forget to be a friend to yourself too. The world doesn’t need more dead heroes as a friend of mine once wisely warned me.

Here are some things to think or talk about this week:

What do I value in my friendships? How do I know who my friends are?
Thinking about these things, am I a good friend to others?
Are there practical ways I can be a good friend, or a better friend?
What do my beliefs teach me about friendship? Do I act on those beliefs?
Some people need a lot of friends, others only need one or two close friends – what do I need?
Not everyone has the personal resources to ‘give’ a lot of themselves for/to others, you know yourself best, if that’s the case for you, what ways can you be a good friend without wearing yourself out?
Are there ways you can be a friend to the world around you, thinking more widely than ‘just’ the humans in your life?

Resources for Card 1

Our story begins with a man who has lost all hope. Many of us feel this way from time to time, as though there is just no point any more – and that all is lost. Maybe you’ve never felt like that, or perhaps you feel like that more often than you like to admit. In any case, life brings all sorts of challenges along, and even if you’ve never felt like this before you may well know others who have.

When we are in that sort of place we sometimes (often) push away the people who can be the most help to us. Its also an unfortunate fact that a lot of us just don’t know how to relate to people who are going through a feeling of hopelessness. At times we get fed up: ‘They’re just so negative’ or ‘they are bringing me down’ we think. As someone I know would say: ‘they’re killing my vibe!’

But of course it is precisely at times of this kind that we need help and encouragement. Finding ourselves abandoned doesn’t usually help. For those of us keen to help, there can be a temptation to overcompensate and try and ‘bounce’ people out of their mood, to negate or override their feelings of hopelessness. That’s not usually a very successful strategy – what people often need in the first place is something much more gentle. Like a quiet whisper.

The challenge this week is to ‘be a hope bringer‘ – there are lots of ways to think about this. You could think about an individual who needs your support, or perhaps you could think about your neighbourhood or local area – are there ways you could be a hope bringer? What tools do you have at your disposal? Could you send someone a note, or a card? Could you paint a message on a stone and leave it where someone could find it? Could you find a way to practically help someone who is struggling? There are many ways to be a hope bringer, let your imagination take you to an interesting place.

Here are some things to think or talk about this week:

Do I ever push people away when I lose hope? How do I feel when I do that?
Have I been pushed away by others who have lost hope? How do I feel when that happens?
Are there relationships that I could repair? What could I do to begin to repair them?
Do I know people who need to hear a whisper of hope? What might a whisper sound (or look) like?