Now even Lent is on the internet

The great Christian festival of Christmas may, in the popular mind, have been reduced to store Santa Clauses, expensive presents, over-eating and binge-drinking, Easter to chocolate eggs, bunnies, and hot-cross buns, All Hallows to ghostly pranks, candle-lit pumpkins, and 'trick or treat' threats.

The great Christian festival of Christmas may, in the popular mind, have been reduced to store Santa Clauses, expensive presents, over-eating and binge-drinking, Easter to chocolate eggs, bunnies, and hot-cross buns, All Hallows to ghostly pranks, candle-lit pumpkins, and 'trick or treat' threats.

But so far the more sombre church season of Lent, beginning on Ash Wednesday this week, has been left largely alone, to be marked quietly by those who are more serious about self-discipline and following the Christian way of life. Only Shrove Tuesday with its pancakes and fun residually impinges on the popular culture, recalling the using up of cooking fat on the last day before the rigours of Lent set in.

But wait! This year the Archbishops of Canterbury and York have launched a campaign to popularise, some may say 'dumb down', Lent for the new generation of internet and mobile phone addicts. From today until Easter Monday you can text the word 'Lent' to 64343 and receive a daily suggestion for a Good Deed. Sample suggestions include giving a hug to someone who needs one, paying more for charity shop goods than the marked price, giving up your place in a queue to someone in more of a hurry than you, leaving money in your supermarket trolley for someone else to find, fitting low-energy light bulbs, putting on a jumper and lowering the central heating, and saying nice things about someone behind their back.

There is also a web-site, www.livelent.net, offering downloads, prayers for Lent, and PowerPoint presentations “to help you LoveLifeLiveLent to the max”. All this on a vivid puce background with a vast yellow 'smiley', and with a slightly apologetic tone. “Who this for?” reads a heading. Answer: “LLLL is a Church of England initiative and we encourage everyone to get involved. Thinking about others and making a difference are something that anyone and everyone should do. Some of the actions may suggest going to church or other activities that you're not quite sure about. But these are only suggestions”.

At first I must admit I groaned and was inclined to be cynical about this initiative. Is there anything distinctively Christian, or Anglican, about these suggestions? Do not many humanists, and even atheists, to say nothing of the good people of many religions, already put them into practice, all year round and not just in the 40 days of Lent? And as for leaving change in supermarket trolleys for well-to-do as well as needy to find, is our Christianity now reduced to this? Was it for this that the martyrs of the faith faced the stake?

And yet, I have to admit it, Lent does not have a popular following. I am myself reasonably computer-literate, but I never leap up from watching television to follow up a programme interactively on the internet, as frequently exhorted to do. Sufficient unto the moment is the evil (or pleasure) thereof, I say. Enough is enough. But millions apparently do log on. I rarely surf the net just to see what I can find, and only use it when searching for one specific item I need. But millions spend half the day on it. Maybe the opportunity to text Lent to 64343, or call up www.livelent.net will appeal to millions who would not otherwise be touched by Lent or anything Christian. The archbishops could be right, and the church should be making the most of new means of communication.

Most Read

And, yes, the suggestions may not in isolation be life-changing. But Lent resolutions have always been about little victories over sin and selfishness, little changes in direction, which can lead to a new and more caring lifestyle in relation to God and our neighbour. Sow an act, reap a habit.

There is also a lot about Lent which may catch the mood of the moment. We are all very conscious these days of the staunch adherence of our Muslim neighbours to the tenets of their faith: and many of us are beginning to wonder again what we believe in. Muslims totally embrace without exception, it seems, the demands of the weeks' long fast of Ramadan and with a fervour which few even regular Anglican church members emulate in their marking of Lent.

Lent could have a lot to offer to a society like ours which is just beginning to react against consumerism, self-indulgence and addictions which destroy our health and endanger the very future of the planet we live on, and instead to embrace the attractions of self-denial, thrift, and taking personal responsibility for our behaviour, not just towards our fellow human beings, but towards creation and the natural world. Putting more into day to day living, taking less out, and recycling what we no longer need is striking a chord with many today, especially the young, who may just text for a Good Deed, or log on to a website.

For Christians Lent has always been a time of preparation for celebrating again the greatest message of all time at Easter, that Love is triumphant over evil and that life of each of us has purpose and meaning, because Jesus lives.