Lent Book with Resources – Opening our Lives: Devotional Readings for Lent

Thinking of a Lent book for your daily reading this year? Or are you leading a weekly Lent group in your church? Allow Opening our Lives: Devotional Readings for Lent to challenge and inspire you this Lent. As well as daily reflections and weekly questions in the book itself, the following videos might also aid your reading and/or discussion:

Week 1: Week 1 Lent – Open our Eyes to your Presence – YouTube

Week 2: Week 2 Lent – Open our Ears to your Call – YouTube

Week 3: Week 3 Lent – Open our Hearts to your Love – YouTube

Week 4: Week 4 Lent – Open our Ways to your Will – YouTube

Week 5: Week 5 Lent – Open our Actions to your Compassion – YouTube

Week 6 (Holy Week): Week 6 Lent – Holy Week – Open our Pain to your Peace – YouTube

Easter Sunday: Easter Sunday – Open our World to your Hope – YouTube

Extra: Interview with Trystan Owain Hughes about ‘Opening our Lives’ – the official BRF Lent Book for 2021 – YouTube

Extra: Easter Tiny Perfect Moments – A Reflection Recorded for High School Pupils – YouTube

Official BRF Lent Book 2021

Official Archbishop of Wales Lent Book 2021

Endorsed by Bishop Ruth Bushyager, Amy Boucher-Pye, Bishop June Osborne, and Bishop Graham Tomlin.

“Easy, attractive, and thought-provoking reading” (Church Times)

“Hughes‘s comments, based upon sound scholarship, are written out of his experiences and inspire the reader to look more closely at the things of faith“ (Methodist Recorder)

“Blending story, insight and commentary… weaving wisdom from the Bible with stories from his life, examples from books and movies, and insights from great Christian thinkers… a rich resource that will give you plenty to not only ponder but to put into practice” (Women Alive magazine)

Available from all good bookstores, including Eden, Amazon, BRF, Waterstones, and CHB.

Lent – Holy Week: Open our Pain to your Peace

Recently, I was sitting on a bench facing our local city lake, Roath Park Lake. I noticed how calm and serene that lake was – the trees around it gently swaying, the ducks and swans gliding in the rippling water, even a heron fishing for his lunch. Peace. And then I glanced at the road around the lake – the hustle and bustle of buses taking people to and from city centre, children screaming and running as they came home from school, police cars with sirens speeding past, frustrated people in cars beeping their horns at each other.

We are now entering Holy Week. A week when Jesus faced betrayal, rejection, torture, pain, and death. And then we will come to the resurrection on Easter Sunday. The risen Jesus repeats two related phrases that can speak into our Holy Week this year. He says “peace be with you” and “do not be afraid” or “fear not”. After all, this journey from the cross to the tomb, and then from the tomb to new life, reassures us of two things. Firstly, it reassures us that Jesus knows what it’s like when we are going through difficult times –and he stands alongside us, with tears in his eyes, when we suffer. But, secondly, Jesus speaks into our pain and suffering – he says “peace be with you, do not be afraid“.

Now in Welsh we have two words for peace – heddwch and tangnefedd. Heddwch is a peace on the outside of us – a peace between people or between nations. Tangnefedd, on the other hand, is internal and eternal, a peace which reaches the depths of our souls. Tangnefedd is what Jesus offers us, “a peace that is beyond understanding”, as St Paul puts it, even when there is no peace outside of us.

And so this week, I want to challenge you, through remembering the suffering and abandonment that Jesus himself felt, to allow his peace to soothe your own worries, your own pain. Even though the stress, busyness, and anxiety of the world continues all around, your hearts and minds can have something of the calm and peaceful Roath Park Lake. It’s not that God’s peace will take away our problems. But it centres us, calms us, and helps us to view those concerns differently.

With everything we have been through over the past year, peace of heart may sometimes seem a distant dream. But Jesus speaks to us through our stress and struggles – he says: “peace be with you… do not be afraid”. Even if the world around us is turbulent and chaotic, our hearts can still be opened to the living water of peace, of tangnefedd. As theologian Andrew Todd put it when reflecting on the pandemic: “this is the peace which touches and holds us when we cannot touch and hold each other”.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

As we wonder about the ups and downs of your final week as a human

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we contemplate the highs and lows in our own lives

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we ask ourselves how we can best use of our days

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we are conscious of our own limitations

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we look upon our own wilderness

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we reflect upon the causes of the world’s suffering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we call to mind people who are wrongly convicted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we try to identify with those who are betrayed

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we ponder that isolation can occur anywhere

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we think about being transformed by you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

As we remember that you are the God who brings peace out of pain, strength out of weakness, triumph out of tragedy

Lord, we ask you to

Open our pain to your peace

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 4: Open our Ways to your Will

“What are the chances of that happening?” I’ve said that phrase so many times recently that I’ve been researching whether there is any meaning behind coincidences. Not so long ago, a BBC Radio 4 series recounted spectacular coincidences – like in 2001 when 10 year-old Lucy Buxton in Staffordshire released a balloon from her garden with her name and address on it. It landed 140 miles away in Wiltshire in a garden of another 10-year-old girl… who, amazingly, was also called Lucy Buxton! Now, coincidences in our own lives may not be so spectacular, but they can still stop us in our tracks – like when we’re thinking of someone and the phone pings and it’s a text from them. “What are the chances of that happening?” we say.

And I’ve noticed that there have been quite a few posts on social media recently referring to such coincidences. Last week, I read about a friend of mine who was listening to Whitney Houston’s “I will always love you” on his car’s CD Player and he thought to himself “it’s not as good as the original”. So he turned his CD player off and his radio kicked in. What was playing? Yes, Dolly Parton’s original version of “I will always love you”!

Now, such coincidences in our own lives can easily be dismissed as, well, just coincidences. But perhaps, if we open ourselves up, we can recognise these coincidences happening more often in our lives and even recognise meaning behind them. And I’m certainly not the only one to believe this. From the great psychologist Carl Jung to the contemporary Cambridge University biologist Rupert Sheldrake, others have suspected these synchronistic moments have deep meaning. In fact, these may be moments when God reveals himself to us, guides us and speaks to us. One popular book in America suggests this is when God is winking at us, reassuring us of his presence or pointing us in some direction he wants us to take.

So, we can open our ways to his will by noticing him wink at us in all sorts of ways – sometimes this comes through coincidental events, but other times it is through things people say to us, or little signs we notice in our daily routine, or loving thoughts that flash across our minds, or something we read or watch and find inspiring, or perhaps even something we dream about.

So, this week I want to challenge you. Ask yourself… What is God pushing you towards? What little signs has he given you? Are you awake to his movement in your life? Have you noticed him wink at you? How is he guiding you to live out his love and compassion in your life? How does he want you to serve him?

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

In the week of Mothering Sunday –

So that we always recall that mothering happens in many places and in many ways

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we recognise the mother in ourselves

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we value the role of all forms of mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we bring our own experiences of mothering to you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we support those who are mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we learn from mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we recognise that mothering is hard

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we can reassure those who think they’re not cut out for mothering

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we let ourselves be mothered

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

So that we see you as the model of all our mothering

Lord we ask you to

Open our ways to your will

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 3: Open our Hearts to your Love

Recently I was introduced to an album called “The Anarchy Arias”. It is a collaboration between the English National Opera, the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, and Glen Matlock, who was in a famous punk band in the 1970s. These songs are the punk, new wave, and rock songs that I would listen to as a teenager, but played by a wonderful orchestra and sung by talented opera singers. What isn’t there to love about that?! Well, in one particular way, it misses the mark and misses the point. These songs were brash protests against problems that still exist in our society, and now they suddenly seem tame. In this new setting, even the lyrics just don’t have the radical and shocking punch that they had in the 1970s, and much of the power and protest has now been lost.

When I was considering what it means to open our hearts to God’s love, I was reminded of the Anarchy Arias. For two thousand years, Christianity has been known as a faith of love. Jesus’s teaching on love, not to mention his life of love, has inspired groups and individuals to challenge the status quo, to stand up for those are oppressed, to speak for those with no voice, and to lay down their lives for those in need. Yes, people like St Francis, William Wilbourforce, Corrie Ten Boom, Dorothy Day, Martin Luther King, Mother Theresa; but also countless other nameless people who lived out the sacrifice that Christian love demands of us. This call on our lives is radical and revolutionary and it bucks the prevailing individualistic and materialist worldview in today’s world.

The reality is, though, that we’ve probably heard the phrase “God is love” countless times by now. And it’s easy to hear things so often that we just get used to them. The power and inspiration can be drained away from even the most life-giving and profound messages. Just like the Anarchy Arias, Christian love can become something bland and staid, worse still it can become sickly sweet and saccharine.

So, this week, let’s try and recapture something of the radical and revolutionary thing that is Christian love. Imagine that you’ve never even heard of Jesus. And then someone explains, first, that the creator of all loves you completely, unconditionally, so much so that he would die for you. This is a huge comfort. And then they go on to explain that, because God’s love is for all, we’re not simply called to put up with one another, or like each other when it’s convenient, but to love one another. This is a huge challenge. So, this week, embrace the comfort; feel his deep, unwavering love for you. But also embrace the challenge; in whatever way you can, reach out to others in love, help them in practical ways and reassure them of their ultimate worth.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

If we take happiness, health, success for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take where we’ve come from and where we’re going for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take our present surroundings for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take others for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we take ourselves for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we perceive that others take us for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we witness others being taken for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we go along with a system that takes people for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we forget that you never take your creation for granted

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

If we want to follow you, grant our prayer:

Lord, we ask you to

Open our hearts to your love

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 2: Open our Ears to your Call

As a teenager, I vividly remember sitting next to the house phone, with Blondie’s song Call Me blasting out of my tape deck, eagerly waiting for a call from a girl I’d asked on a date. When the call came with the deafening ring of those old phones, I was to be disappointed – the answer was not simply “no, thank you”, it was “no way”.

These days, of course, awaiting a call from a friend or a family member can bring a similar anticipation, especially during a year when we haven’t been able to meet up with as many as we usually do. On top of that, there can be a real excitement about the ping of our mobile phones telling us we have a text or WhatApp message. Scientists tell us we have a rush of dopamine firing around our heads each time we hear our mobile phones ping.

But what about the idea of being called by God? Do you have a similar anticipation of God’s call? Or a similar excitement that he might be speaking to you? It’s important to remember that God’s call is not some scary, supernatural, otherworldly thing that’s restricted to special and holy priests or prophets. God speaks to all of us, he calls all of us – whoever you are, whatever your age, whatever your background, however close you feel to him, however far you feel from him. He’s calling all of us; calling us to use our gifts and talents to bring his kingdom of love to our communities. How exciting is that? Far more exciting than the ring of a phone or the ping of a mobile!

So, the important question is not “is God calling me?”, but rather “am I listening?” The Rule of St Benedict, written in the sixth century, may have been written for monks living in community, but its teaching is as relevant to us now as it was 1500 years ago. And what is the first word of that book? – “listen”. Listen. St Benedict goes on to write: “let us open our ears to the voice from the heavens that every day calls out: if you hear God’s voice today, don’t harden your heart; you have ears to hear, so listen to what the Spirit says”.

So, this week, whoever you are, young or old, lay or ordained, church attender or not, I want to encourage you to open your ears to God’s call. What is he calling you to? Perhaps it’s something big that will mean significant changes is your life. Or perhaps is something small – something loving he wants you to do for someone right now. Remember… the important question is not “is God calling me?”, but rather “am I listening?”

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

When you want us to walk before you faithfully

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to follow you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to call a crowd to you

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to talk to us individually

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to make us very fruitful

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to deny ourselves

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to forfeit the whole world

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want us to help change the whole world

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

When you want to remind us that your covenant is everlasting

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

And when you want to remind us that you are always asking something different of us

Lord, we ask you to

Open our ears to your call

Amen.

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Lent Week 1: Open our Eyes to your Presence

Ever since he heard it mentioned in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, my youngest son has become obsessed with Turkish Delight. We have to buy it in bulk for him. It’s not particularly great for his teeth, so he’s only allowed one small slither a day. Yesterday morning he asked for his daily treat of Turkish Delight. I told him that if he ate it then, he wouldn’t have another treat for the rest of the day. He thought for a moment and then said: “imagine a treat that lasts forever”.

We’re now at the beginning of Lent. And it’s been a strange and difficult year, with so many churches, shops, schools, colleges, and workplaces having been closed. But this week, I challenge you to view the beginning of Lent as an opportunity to open up – to open up your eyes to God’s presence all around you. After all, through connecting with God‘s presence we connect with something of eternity. We connect with “the treat that lasts forever”, to use my son words.

But how does that relate to Ash Wednesday and to Lent? Well, the monastic tradition has always seen the contrition, the saying sorry, at the beginning of Lent as not simply being sorry for the things we have done. It’s also about being sorry for the things we haven’t done – and, in particular, according to the tradition, it is being sorry for the times we haven’t appreciated and savoured those moments of beauty, love, hope, and joy that break into our lives. The beginning of Lent gives us the opportunity to say sorry for those times and then commit ourselves to doing things differently from now on – to consciously open our eyes to where God comes to us in our lives each day.

So, this week, I encourage you, however difficult life might be at the moment, to recognise God all around you – in your daily walks, in the green shoots of nature that are starting to spring up all around us, in the birds in your gardens and parks, in your family at home or further afield, in the friendships you are fostering through text or phone calls, in the music you listen to and the films you watch, in inspirational sacrifices (such as we’re seeing from NHS workers, teachers, and other workers at the moment), or in the small moments of kindness that you witness as you go about your daily lives. By doing this, you can experience just something of that “treat that lasts forever”. Or, in the words of poet William Blake, you can experience “a World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower… Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour”.

This is the transcript of a video recorded for the Diocese of Llandaff. Click here to view video.

Opening our Lives can be purchased at any major online bookstore, including BRF, Amazon, Eden, Independent Booksellers, Church House, and Aslan.

Prayers for the Week

If we want to take a deep breath at the start of Lent

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to set off in a different direction

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to increase our openhearted awareness of the world around us

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to recall what we haven’t done

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to do better next time

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to stop over-complicating things

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to cut down on our tendency to catastrophise

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to keep being patient and kind

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to remember why we’re doing this

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

If we want to look beyond death to life

Lord, we ask you to

Open our eyes to your presence

Amen

With thanks to Eleanor Williams, Christ Church, Roath Park, Cardiff for the prayers each week

Why open up this Lent? Introducing ‘Opening our Lives’

“What is your binge-viewing TV recommendation?”, asked a friend of mine on Facebook recently. Over 50 people replied with their enthusiastic recommendations – from rebooted classics like Star Trek and Battlestar Galactica to the contemporary trends like Tiger King and The Queen’s Gambit. We have discovered a more unusual series that is presently gripping our evenings. For Life is inspired by a true story of a wrongly-convicted prisoner in a US jail, who trains and qualifies as a lawyer so as to fight against his life sentence. Produced by, and starring, the rapper 50 Cent, it is a fascinating series. Granted my view is rather biased, as I have always been a huge fan of prison films like Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, Cool Hand Luke, and Papillon. If any of these films were simply about the hardship and pain of prison, though, they would not inspire me as much as they do. What I love most about prison films and TV series is the fact that at their heart is one little word – “hope”.

It has certainly been a difficult year and the lockdowns have been particularly hard. I would never have guessed that I would spend so much time indoors in one calendar year – sometimes it does feel as if we are imprisoned. With the season of Lent on the way, I am not sure whether penance and self-denial will be top on my list of priorities this year. I usually give up chocolate, but sometimes I feel that an occasional chocolate orange or double decker is the only thing keeping me going through these difficult times!

When I started to write my new Lent Book, the word Covid was completely alien to most of us, Corona was a Mexican beer that we might occasionally enjoy on a hot summer’s day, and bubbles were things that made my kids scream with joy outside. By the time I was finishing writing, though, its theme had come to hold far deeper significance. That theme can be summed up by the title of the book: Opening our Lives. In so many ways, our lives have seemed shut down over the past year. Many of us have spent most of our days indoors, with even shopping being delivered to us. Our work patterns have changed, quite a bit of schooling has taken place at home, and appointments are increasingly on the phone or online. So, while most of us remained shut indoors, to be writing about “opening” our lives seemed hugely relevant.

After all, it is by opening our lives that we Christians can connect with that little word that runs through all my favourite prison films and TV series – hope. Lent is certainly a time when “giving up” something can be a helpful discipline. Likewise, “giving to” a charity or “taking up” particular acts of compassion can contribute so much to others. “Opening up”, though, especially at a time when our lives are so challenging, allows us to discover that hope is at the very centre of the Lenten journey. We open our eyes to recognise God’s presence, however difficult our journey. We open our ears to hear him call us to lives of transformation and justice. We open our hearts to his love, as we view the world around us as God himself sees it. We open our pain to his peace, as we allow him to be balm to our wounds. Then, on Easter Sunday, we open our lives to that wonderful hope that brings freedom and liberation despite the hardships we are facing: “hope is a good thing, maybe the best of things, and no good thing ever dies” (Shawshank Redemption).

Opening our Lives: Devotional Readings for Lent is the BRF Lent Book for 2021.

This blog post was originally published as a BRF Blog.