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Rejoice! Laetare Sunday

Reflection for Sunday 19th March, 2023

I’ve just finished reading the novel Dombey and Son by Charles Dickens. It narrates the slow ruin of a proud, wealthy ship merchant whose life has been focused on financial gain and having a male heir to continue the great House of Dombey. Dombey expresses only coldness and cruelty towards his loving and devoted daughter, Florence. Frustrated when his only son dies at a young age, outraged when his second wife elopes with his friend, Carker the Manager, Dombey withdraws into isolation and financial ruin. It’s only in this state of broken misery that he finally recognises the unchanging goodness of his daughter. But in this wretched state he owns that he is ‘so proud in his ruin…that if he could have heard her voice in an enjoining room, he would not have gone to her. If he could have seen her in the street…..he would have passed on with his cold, unforgiving face and not addressed her, or relaxed it, though his heart should have broken soon afterwards.’

The journey of Lent is like a little journey of life. It is framed by a beginning and end; reminds us that we are time-bound, space-bound and have our being in relationship with one another. Our readings today encourage us to stay open and aware so that our seeing is always fresh: ‘everything exposed by the light becomes visible.’ (Eph 5:13). Everyday has something new to teach us.

Being human we create habits. Habits influence our neural pathways, the patterning of our actions and form our nature. They affect those around us and our environment. Barely perceptible, often least recognised by ourselves, habits can make us who we are. It can be near impossible to change some habits.

Except that the work of the Holy Spirit makes it possible. Lento in music means to move at a slow tempo. We work in the spirit, the spirit works in us, at a slow pace. It doesn’t operate at record breaking speed.

Laetare Sunday is a sign that the human heart doesn’t change at a great pace, but slowly. This day of rejoicing isn’t about how great it is that we may be changing some of our habits. But rather, how great God is in the recognition of our human limits and fallibility. God knows our brokenness. Knows too our blind spots.

Paul Dombey is redeemed by the end of the novel. Not so much by his efforts, but by the faithful grace of love. This is God’s endless patient work in our own frail human hearts. In Lent and beyond. Rejoice!