"Olibhear" Twomey

A is for Alleluia.

A is for Ashes and last Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the day when many denominations observe the beginning of Lent — the 40-ish days leading up to the Last Supper, the death of Jesus, the finding of the empty tomb, and the mysterious appearances of Jesus.

Lent comes from the Latin word for Spring. So, it seems that Lent is for Spring.

When I was a small boy, the talk in the class was what you were giving up for Lent — crisps, or lemonade, or, for the radically committed, sweets. Last Tuesday, eating pancakes and lemons, some friends discussed what to give up. We were all agreed: Lent is less for giving up, and more for making space.

We make space to contemplate what it is that we will celebrate in 40 days’ time. We make space to recognise our faults. We pray a little more. We allow our emptier stomachs to remind us of the pithiness of our observations in comparison with real hunger. We give more money. We confess. We reconcile. We listen to emptiness for a while. We do not say Alleluia.

This Ash Wednesday, I went to Clonard Monastery between work meetings. There were workmen, nurses, office people, people in tracksuits, children, teenagers, young, old. We lined up and had ashes, made from the burnt palms of last year’s jubilant celebration of Palm Sunday, smeared on our foreheads with the words “Turn away from sin and return to the Gospel”. After Mass, I walked from the Catholic Falls Road through the city centre into the Protestant Donegall Pass. I wiped the ash from my head, aware of offence and violence.

This year, I have been a sometimes-absent, sometimes-silent friend. I have been bad at communication. Good intentions, frankly, have not been enough. Decisions about what charity to give to have resulted in distraction, not action.

I am hoping that empty space will create something for me. I am giving up eating anything between meals. Three square a day for me. And, pithy as it seems, I am also giving up sweet things. Hard core for me this Lent.

On Holy Thursday, the Eucharist is removed from the tabernacle in the church. We attend the Stations of the Cross on Good Friday, reminding ourselves of the emptying of God by God. We remember the descent of our tortured and abandoned brother into Hell. We allow emptiness to create hope.

A friend of mine told me a month ago that he’s been diagnosed as HIV positive. Another friend is in the gut-clenching grip of heartbreaking decisions. Someone is unemployed. Someone is lonely. And I am hoping that Lent will create a bit of space for me to commit my time, my body, and what love I can give. Such resolutions will not, please God, end with an Easter celebration, when a fire will be lit outside the monastery and we will process into the church with springtime candles lit from that same fire.

A is for Allel…

Padraig O TuamaMr. Ó Tuama, originally from Cork, works in Belfast, Northern Ireland doing chaplaincy and community work, mostly through the Corrymeela Community and the Irish Peace Centres. Part of his community work involves writing poetry to encapsulate some of the stories of living and dying in the context of the Irish conflict.

He submitted this essay through our First Person Outreach page. Submit yours too.

Share Your Reflection



beautiful. Goes right to the core.

In my church we say that Lent is not so much for giving up something we love, but rather an opportunity to look at those things in our lives that may no longer serve us, and contemplate letting them go. After all, if I get along without it for 40 days, do I really need it?

Over the past several years, I have used Lent to examine eating habits, complaining and gossip, among other things -- but those three seem to ask repeatedly for my attention.

I love the idea of making space - I will now incorporate this into my Lenten exploration. Isn't this, after all, what Spring Cleaning is all about? Taking out our stuff - belongings, ideas, habits - and making a conscious decision about whether or not they are useful to us?

Thank you for this addition to my understanding. Not having been raised with Lent, I have been at liberty to explore the meaning and usefulness of it for myself, and have found it to be a wonderfully fruitful practice.

Here's to Spring!

Lent is about creating space. In the different kinds of space, we can see and hear what is around us and what is within us.

Appreciate these thoughts, particularly as someone not nurtured in a liturgical tradition, but who likes to observe the 'Church Year.' I am struck by Fr Lawrence Freeman's challenge to not focus on giving something up for Lent, but 'taking something on' (e.g. compassion). Of course this interchanges with "space for meeting God" in stillness, silence and simplicity.