The wife of clergyman (now deceased) I once knew used to call a particular day in every month ‘black Monday.’ It was the day he had to make himself sit down in front of a blank sheet of paper and write his piece for the parish magazine. I know the feeling.
To make matters worse, by a strange coincidence the day on which I find myself writing this has been dubbed ‘blue Monday’ by the media. It’s supposed to be the day in the year when people are at their lowest ebb - depressed after so many short days, the miserable weather, seasonal ailments and post-Christmas debt.
Things can only get better! But although we’ve got spring to look forward to it often seems to a long time coming. February can be a pretty dismal month – and we can’t all escape to sunnier climes - so here’s some sound advice on how to deal with low spirits from a nineteenth century canon of St Paul’s, the Rev’d Sydney Smith. He gave it on February 16th 1820 in a letter to his friend Lady Georgiana Cavendish.
“Nobody has suffered more from low spirits than I have done, so I feel for you.
1st: live as well as you dare.
2nd: go into the shower bath with a small quantity of water at a temperature low enough to give you a slight sensation of cold.
3rd: amusing books.
4th: short views of human life — not further than dinner or tea.
5th: be as busy as you can.
6th: see as much as you can of those friends who like and respect you.
7th: and of those acquaintances who amuse you.
8th: make no secret of low spirits to your friends, but talk of them freely — they are always worse for dignified concealment.
9th: attend to the effects tea and coffee produce upon you.
10th: don’t expect too much from human life — a sorry business at the best.
11th: compare your lot with that of other people.
12th: avoid poetry, dramatic representations (except comedy), music, serious novels, melancholy, sentimental people, everything likely to excite feeling or emotion, not ending in active benevolence.
13th: DO GOOD, and endeavour to please everybody of every degree.
14th: be as much as you can in the open air without fatigue.
15th: make the room where you commonly sit gay and pleasant.
16th: struggle little by little against idleness.
17th: don’t be too severe upon yourself, or underrate yourself, but do yourself justice.
18th: keep good blazing fires.
19th: be firm and constant in the exercise of rational religion.
20th: believe me, dear Lady Georgiana, very truly yours, Sydney Smith.”
There’s much in points 13 to 19 which could profitably be applied to the keeping of Lent. It should be a season not for misery but rather for the recharging of our spiritual batteries – a time of refreshment. This year it begins on February 10th. Let’s try and make the words of the great priest-poet George Herbert our own:
“Welcome, sweet feast of Lent.” Not fast (though fasting has its place) but feast - to be enjoyed!