28 January 2016

Beginning to prepare reflections
in Lent with Samuel Johnson

Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) ... a portrait by Joshua Reynolds

Patrick Comerford

At the celebration of the Eucharist last night [27 January 2016], I was conscious that the Christmas season is coming to an end. I am presiding at the Eucharist again on Sunday morning [31 January 2016] in Christ Church Cathedral, and the Christmas Season comes to an end on Tuesday with our celebrations of Candlemas or the Feast of the Presentation. Lent comes early this year, because of the early date for Easter, and I have started to prepare my daily meditations for the Season of Lent.

My reflections each morning last Advent and during Christmas were assisted by hymns, carols, songs and other compositions by the great English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), and our Gradual last night was ‘Rise and hear! The Lord is speaking’ by Canon Howard Gaunt (1902-1983), set to the tune ‘Sussex’ by Vaughan Williams, which is better known as the setting for ‘Father, hear the prayer we offer.’

In previous years, my Lenten reflections have journeyed with the saints (2013), looked at Lent in Art (2014), or reflected on the music of Vaughan Williams (2015).

This year, I am planning to take time each morning to reflect on words from Samuel Johnson (1709-1784), the Lichfield lexicographer and writer who compiled the first authoritative English-language dictionary.

Perhaps I am sympathetic to Johnson because of his origins in Lichfield. Perhaps I am drawn to him because he recalled that when he lived in in London he went “every day to a coffee-house.” But he was also a pious Anglican, a regular communicant, and he writes regularly and carefully about his observance of Lent and Easter.

At early age, his mother encouraged him to learn the Book of Common Prayer by heart, including its many rich Lenten collects. The Book of Common Prayer invites us “to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and Repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.”

Lent this year begins in less than a fortnight [10 February 2016], when I plan to begin these daily reflections. Samuel Johnson once declared, through his amanuensis James Boswell, that unless we set aside certain days for particular remembrances, we will probably fail to remember.

During Lent this year I have plans for a working visit to London and for a family return visit to Lichfield, so I hope my reflections and the accompanying photographs draw from those experiences too.

What shall I say? Perhaps it might be more appropriate to ask what Dr Johnson says. But I shall not keep you waiting too long, for Samuel Johnson once wrote on this day [28 January] in 1752 in The Rambler: “He that long delays a story, and suffers his auditor to torment himself with expectation, will seldom be able to recompense the uneasiness, or equal the hope which he suffers to be raised.”

Wait for a few days, but not for too long, and join me for the first of my Lenten reflections with Samuel Johnson on Ash Wednesday.