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We tend to think of Lent as a time for keeping to the rules, which makes it a rather miserable season. Right now, I’m looking out of the window at the rain, thinking how muddy it will be when I venture out with the dog who is showing no inclination whatsoever to go outside. I have offered him the opportunity, by opening the door, on several occasions already today. But no. So why oblige him to go for a walk and then endure dampness and being confined to the hallway for an hour or so – like some kind of penitential exercise – until he dries off? Because walk he must, whatever the weather. Those are the rules. But why all these rules and regulations? I think the dog must be wondering about that too. Male dogs, we’re told, can ‘hold on’ for up to 14 hours without needing to go outside. It’s something to do with not leaving a scent, so that larger predators – wolves, bears, tigers – can’t come after them. But none of these creatures feature in the landscape I’m contemplating right now and our labradoodle knows this perfectly well. With all these ideas milling around in my head, I look out of the window and feel a deep sense of joy. Perhaps it has something to do with being let off going out with the dog. Perhaps the dog is experiencing it too. It’s a sense of God’s presence, of God’s smile welling up from within myself and from within the sodden landscape and the grey skies. It’s a kind of intuited Magnificat. I begin to object that this deep contentment is irrelevant and undeserved, given what the Ukranian people are suffering right now. I should at least use the greyness of the day to identify with the darkness of soul that they must be enduring. But I am reminded, through this strange joy, that Lent challenges our impotent feelings of guilt, which we are quite happy to indulge as a lazy way of identifying with suffering that is often just too much for us to contemplate. It challenges us, instead, to identify with the courage of the Ukrainian people, and of those Russians who are paying the price for protesting at home. Lent challenges us to allow these random moments of inexplicable joy to somehow overspill into the hearts of all these people, into their situations, and know that in allowing this strange joy to run its natural course, the proud will be scattered in their conceit, the mighty will be cast down from their thrones and the lowly will be lifted up.

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