As you know, Christians are in the middle of Lent, the season when we remember how Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights in the wilderness, resisting the temptations of the devil.
The hope is that, inspired by him, we might show more self-discipline than usual as we seek to cope without the odd luxury for a few weeks. Alternatively, we might be trying to keep up with those extra good works that we have taken on, writes the Dean of Ripon, the Very Rev John Dobson
So far, I’m not doing too badly on going without biscuits and whisky, but not too well with reading an extra book each week.
It should be acknowledged that many people who don’t attend church and worship God regularly take up a personal Lenten challenge. This is encouraging, not least when it involves doing good deeds for others.
The pupils of one Ripon primary school were telling me about all the good works they were planning to take on for Lent; including being kinder to each other in class.
One man from Masham, who I don’t think ‘goes to church’, was sharing with me his enthusiasm for Lent. He is volunteering an extra hour’s charity work each week; and he claims that he is feeling happier as a result.
This chap reminded me of the recent finding of the Office of National Statistics. At the beginning of this month, they published the results of a study which, apparently, confirms the findings of other similar studies: religious people are happier.
Over a four year period, people were asked to record their levels of happiness.
On average, the religious scored slightly higher than the non-religious; 7.38 out of ten, as opposed to 7.22. We might wonder why there isn’t a wider margin. And yet, those who practise a faith and aim to live by its teaching know only too well that the faithful have to cope with the difficulties and challenges of life in just the same way as those with no faith.
For Christians, of course, there is the reassurance that we have a God who has experienced at first-hand the trials and pains of life, as well as its joys and happiness. Knowing this, and trusting in Christ, really can give courage and strength in difficult times; and it can help us to notice and appreciate the blessings we have. Perhaps this is what makes people that bit happier, even in a season like Lent.
Showing others a bit of gratitude and appreciation can help them to feel happier. I couldn’t help reflecting just before Valentine’s Day, while standing outside a busy florists in Harrogate, that when this is communicated with flowers, it also helps to make the florists of the region that bit happier.
It’s far too easy to take for granted those who love us and care about us, those whose help and support makes our lives better than they otherwise would be.
In part, this is how the church is trying to help with Mothering Sunday: this year it is on March 6.
Mothering Sunday is always the fourth Sunday of Lent, exactly three weeks before Easter.
It is sometimes known by other names, such as Refreshment Sunday and Laetare (Rejoice) Sunday. Both of these are probably connected with readings that were used in services on the day.
Fundamentally, though, the tradition developed for being a bit more relaxed about Lent and for showing appreciation to our mothers.
In England, the custom developed of paying a special visit on Mothering Sunday. This was either to one’s own mother or to the mother church, the cathedral – designed to make the dean as happy as the florists. We can easily understand how the custom of showing appreciation for mothers and others who have cared for us became popular: we owe them so much.
So, flowers, chocolates, breakfast in bed: these all help to get Mothering Sunday off to a great start for any mother. But we can make it even better.
Most churches across the region will be holding special Mothering Sunday services.
In the cathedral we are making it possible for people to combine the tradition of showing appreciation to one’s own mother with that of visiting the mother church.
The cathedral Mothering Sunday Service at 10.30am on March 6 is for people of all ages, and for everyone who has ever had a mother – everyone.
Especially if you have never been to your Mother Church before. There will be flowers for ladies and cake for everybody.
Most importantly, it will be a relaxed service that gives an opportunity to show appreciation and gratitude for people who are, or who have been, a blessing to us – whether they be our mothers or other people.
It is an occasion to encourage happiness.