Pam Rhodes discovers why Lent is significant, meets one of the women whose story inspired the film Calendar Girls, and introduces hymns from Bradford Cathedral.
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The season of Lent starts in three days' time, on Ash Wednesday.
That's when, in some churches,
palm crosses from last year will be burnt to ash which will then
be used to make a sign of repentance and mortality.
Nowadays, relatively few people choose to have their foreheads
marked with the shape of the cross, but it does seem that this
period of Lent leading up to Easter still resonates with many of us.
In a survey last year,
a quarter of people asked said they would give up something for Lent.
Chocolate being top of the list!
Well, I have come to Bradford to meet people for whom this
season has deeper significance.
Lent, to me, is about patience. It is about working towards an end goal.
Having something that may be a hard journey
but that there is light at the end and you will get there.
Lent is waiting through the temptation by trusting the Lord
because God is always faithful.
Lent, for me, is a time when people give things up, or it is a time
when people take on challenges.
And, for me, my Lent was the challenge of doing the calendar.
It's a time of preparation and a time of prayer.
A time of abstinence and fasting.
I think it's a useful way of stepping
back from the pressures of life and being able to focus on my faith.
Our singing comes from Bradford Cathedral, where we
start with the best known of all Lenten hymns.
But it doesn't only speak of the challenges that we
think about during Lent but of the joy of Easter that lies ahead.
That hymn reminds us of how we hear in the Bible that Jesus
spent 40 days in the desert, where he was both tempted and tested.
The way in which Jesus responded to the challenge of those 40 days
provides inspiration for Christians during these weeks of Lent.
So let's hear now from Tom Courtenay as he reminds us
of the story from Luke's Gospel.
Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit,
returned from the Jordan and was led by the spirit in the wilderness,
where, for 40 days, he was tempted by the devil.
He ate nothing at all during those days,
and when they were over, he was famished.
The devil said to him, "If you are the son of God,
"command this stone to become a loaf of bread."
Jesus answered him, "It is written, man does not live by bread alone."
Here at Bradford Cathedral,
Polly Meynell has been commissioned to design a new fabric scheme
to reflect the themes of the liturgical year.
One of the first pieces to be completed is the altar frontal,
which will be used during Lent.
Gosh, this is going to take a while.
What is this piece we're actually working on?
This is going to be the kneeler cushion for the altar rail
at the High Altar.
It's produced by members of the community and there are people,
I hope, from all ages and all backgrounds who will be engaged
with creating this.
The gold, if we have a look at that end, is the celebration season.
That's all to do with the joy of Easter and Christmas.
Then we move into Passiontide, which is this red area.
And then we're moving here into Lent and Advent with the purple.
It's interesting, the designs you've got. They remind me of Bradford.
-This looks like a factory.
-I am so glad you've said that.
Because, in fact, my original design idea was to have something
that was abstract,
but that really had a resonance with people who lived in Bradford.
Bradford is built on the history of the wool trade
and has an enormous amount of mills still in existence,
some of them derelict, some of them having been remade into flats,
some of them still working as mills.
That history is so evident walking around the city.
The textile industry has played a major part in Bradford's history.
Back in the 19th century,
the city was nicknamed the wool capital of the world
as immigrants were drawn from far and wide
to work in the mills, including many Germans who settled in an area
next to the cathedral, which became known as Little Germany.
It was here that German merchants built imposing warehouses
to store and sell their goods.
The community also established their own church.
And, although this building is now mostly used as an art centre,
a German congregation continues to meet here once a month.
One of the most famous preachers here was the pastor
In November 1933, he was the leader in instigating
the Bradford Declaration,
which called upon German Christians to stand against
the infamous events in Berlin.
Bonhoeffer returned to Germany to take his stand,
and that cost him his life.
He was executed just a few weeks
before the end of the Second World War.
# Drop, drop, slow tears
# And bathe those beauteous feet
# Which brought from Heaven
# The news and Prince of Peace
# Cease not wet tears
# His mercies to entreat
# To cry for vengeance
# Sin doth never cease
# In your deep floods
# Drown all my faults and fears
# Nor let his eye see
# Sin, but through my tears. #
Jesus's 40 days in the desert is sometimes
remembered as his wilderness experience. That's something
that Daniel Habtey has quite literally lived through.
I came from Eritrea, East Africa.
There is no freedom of politics, freedom of religion.
Many Christians have been persecuted
and about 2,000 people are currently arrested because of their religion.
In 2002, the church was closed officially,
so, I decided, you know, in order to exercise my faith, in order to
live a good life, I have to leave my country and I decided to go to Sudan.
On foot for three days and then,
from Sudan to Libya through the Sahara desert for 15 days more.
Did you travel alone?
No, my wife and my child, she was six months old,
and we were about 30, 34 people
as well, you know, in a very small Toyota Hilux pick-up.
What was the worst time?
The experience of the desert was very, very tough.
I remember one time we ran out
of water and we had to walk in search for water
and I was worried, you know,
for my wife and for my child.
But, finally, we went to...
We pushed and then we found some reservoir
and it's very dirty, it's not clean,
but there is no choice.
And that was the toughest time for me.
It reminds me when Jesus was, you know, tempted in the wilderness
and God was, you know, sending a son, even though passing through
such a difficult situation.
And when you finally emerged from the desert,
were you in a safe situation at last?
As soon as we have arrived, you know, we were caught up
by the Libyan government and the military,
they just caught us and they just put us in a prison.
After four days, you know, they just released me because of my baby.
Sometimes, looking the situation, it doesn't help you,
but trusting the Lord and believe in the promises can give you a life.
One of the most popular British films in recent years
has been Calendar Girls.
It was based on the true story of some members
of the Women's Institute in the Yorkshire Dales.
The story began in February 1998,
when Angela Baker's husband, John, was diagnosed with cancer.
John had been such a healthy person
and then, suddenly, it was just...bang, and...
he was in hospital and, really,
stayed there for five months until he died.
A lot of people going through
what you'd been through would want to withdraw,
but you not only took a lot on,
you took quite a lot off, too, didn't you?
We did, Pam, yeah, but John knew about the calendar
and he was going to come along
and watch us have our photographs taken,
but he wasn't well enough to do that.
We told him what month we were going to be
and what craft we were going to be doing
and he just laughed and said, "You'll never do it!"
Was it a surprise, then, that it really took on a life of its own?
It was a big surprise, we had no idea what was going to happen,
we were so naive.
And we thought, "Who's going to buy them?
"Who on Earth would want a calendar of middle-aged women
"with no clothes on?" But, you see, they did.
So, obviously, it was becoming more and more of a success,
but you would have been still dealing with your grief?
I was, it was really, really hard.
At the end of doing something really good and we'd had a lovely day,
of course, when we got off the train or, you know, the bus or anything,
all the other husbands were waiting for their wives
and mine wasn't there.
My world had ended.
I would have been lost if I hadn't had done the calendar.
You just felt as though you were doing something for somebody else.
Our aim was to raise money for Leukaemia And Lymphoma Research
and we have. We've raised £4 million.
Do you see any parallel with Lent in what you've been through?
Lent, everyone thinks that
it's a time that you give something up, isn't it?
Something that you really like.
I mean, for years and years and years, I gave crisps up
and on Easter Sunday, I used to sit up in bed and eat a packet of crisps.
But it's also a challenging time, isn't it?
And I think that, sometimes,
instead of giving something up, you should take something on.
Doing the calendar, for me, was my Lent, really, was my challenge.
How important has your own faith been to you through all of this?
My faith is very strong.
But when John was ill, and...the local church that we went to,
they had prayer meetings every morning for John
and I felt sure, you know, that he would get better.
And then, when he died, I felt so angry and I thought,
"Well, what was the use of all these prayers?"
But then, of course, down the line,
I realised that the prayers were there for us all.
And...I couldn't have done without them.
The lyrics for one of the most heartfelt songs
on the soundtrack of the film Calendar Girls were written
by the American singer-songwriter Beth Nielsen Chapman.
I Find Your Love is one of those songs that, you know,
I open up my emails
or I get a call, or a letter from somebody
almost every week saying,
"It helped me through feeling
"so disconnected from this person that I lost that I loved."
And the way that the memory of someone can come through,
little instances that are completely unexpected.
My husband died of cancer in 1994 and I had a line in a song
that I wrote for him that said something like,
you know, "Every once in a while, when my son smiles,
"I see you smiling at me,"
you know, it's this way that things just sort of...like a wisp
of something coming through,
the essence of this person that you love.
So there's a lot of lines in this song that feel like that,
you know, that talk about I see your smile on someone's face,
you know, I hear you, I see you, you're just around me, even though
I can't know you the way I did before, I still feel you there.
# I'll catch your smile on someone's face
# Your whisper in the wind's embrace
# Through diamond stars and songs and dreams
# I find your love in everything
# The sun, the sky, the rolling sea
# All conspire to comfort me
# From sorrow's edge Life's beauty seems
# To find your love in everything
# I've come to trust the hope it brings
# To find your love in everything
# Even as I fall apart
# Even through my shattered heart
# I'll catch your smile on someone's face
# Amazing grace. #
Bradford's skyline tells you
that this is a city of different faiths.
Bradford Cathedral's Interfaith Worker is Liz Firth.
Interfaith relations are really important in a place like Bradford.
We're a town that's been built on migration,
people have come to Bradford from loads of different places,
all over the world for a long time now,
and we're still welcoming new communities here, every year.
'We have communities from different faith traditions in Bradford
'and from none, and it's really important that, as much as possible,
'we're providing opportunities for people to come together,
'to get to know each other.'
Here we are, by the statue of Mary...
'We visit different faith communities,'
see places of worship,
get to meet people from different faith communities.
'We're deepening relationships, building trust,
'and it just helps move Bradford forward.'
When we're visiting different places of worship,
we'll often have people from different faith backgrounds.
And it is originally in black stone, so...
'Sikh, Hindu, Muslim, Christian backgrounds,
'sometimes of no particular faith background,
'and we'll do a tour of the building,
'we might look at the particular statues, if there are statues there,
'understand the meanings behind them.'
..Probably have a fire at the centre here.
It's often useful to perhaps focus on things that we do share in common.
So, for us, as Christians, we're coming up to the season of Lent,
which is a time that traditionally people would have fasted,
would have prepared themselves through prayer
for the feast of Easter.
It's great to have Muslim friends in Bradford who are happy
to share with us their experiences of Ramadan,
'a similar time for the Muslim community where they are preparing
'through fasting, through abstinence, through prayer,
'for the celebration of Eid.'
God of our pilgrimage,
expand our horizons, we pray
that this Lent we may explore
both the depth of your mercy
and the breadth of your generous grace.
And the blessing of God Almighty,
the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit
be upon you and remain with you always.
Well, as Lent approaches,
perhaps the question we should be asking is not
what can we give up for Lent, but what can we take on,
because our faith can be passive or it can be active,
as our last hymn reminds us.
This is our prayer for strength and courage to cope
with whatever life brings our way.
Next week, it's a Songs Of Praise Sport Relief special,
as Dan Walker commentates on our own mini Olympics with a difference.
And Paralympian Stef Reid explains how her faith drives her on,
plus inspirational hymns on a sporting theme.
Pam Rhodes discovers why Lent is significant, meets one of the women whose story inspired the film Calendar Girls, and introduces hymns from Bradford Cathedral with American singer Beth Nielsen Chapman.