It’s funny, some years it feels like I’ve barely had time to get the nativities put away before I’m mixing pancake batter and grinding charred palm fronds into ashes. That is, some years I’m not ready for Lent. Well, this is not that year. This year, I was ready for Lent in mid-January. Something about the daily barrage of worrisome and despair-filled news has left me craving a season to focus on how I can grow closer to Christ and to the person Christ would have me be. Rather than ricocheting from news story to news story, worrying about everything and letting hopelessness well up within me, I want to turn back to the way of Jesus and look for him to calm my nerves, put me back on the right path, and encourage me to keep aspiring to love others as he loves.
For some of us, Lent carries a lingering stigma of gloom and doom, and we were taught that we’re supposed to spend the next six weeks feeling bad. Not so. Lent is a time of repentance, but that is about reconnecting with the God who wants to be at our center, rather than some psychological self-flagellation. God doesn’t desire our misery, either in Lent or outside of it. So if this is baggage you carry about Lent, try to set it down, and consider how you could embrace this season as a gift to help you follow Jesus more whole-heartedly.
I want to make a couple of suggestions for how you could observe a holy Lent, though I’m confident that if you pray earnestly and openly about it, God will lead you to the discipline(s) you need most.
First, fasting is a good thing. Give something up this Lent. I have always been a proponent of fasting from two things each Lent – one that disciplines my body and one that disciplines my heart. So, for example, I traditionally fast from alcohol each Lent, because I know that alcohol is something that can easily get too great a hold on my body and become destructive. It can move from being something I enjoy to something I need, so each Lent I check on it by fasting from it. Meanwhile, I have also fasted from things like cynicism or negativity. I love this list of suggested fasts, and I encourage you to give serious consideration to one (or more) of them.
Second, pray every single day. Put it on your calendar, if you need to. Start by trying to simply sit quietly for five minutes, before you even put words around your hopes and needs and thanksgivings. I’m becoming a big fan of Ignatian spirituality, and so I encourage you to use a simple prayer technique called “Examen.”
Third, read the Bible every day, or as close to every day as you’re able. Here I want to make a plug for a book called The Path that my wife, Melody, edited. It is an abridged version of the Bible that puts into narrative sequence the whole text of the Bible; that is, it takes the 66 books apart and puts them together into 26 chapters that follow the overarching narrative order, from the dawn of time to Jesus to the end of time. 26 chapters over 46 days and you could get a much clearer sense of the Biblical story of God’s love. Copies are available in the Kay Andrews Bookstore.
Fourth, give alms. Almsgiving is different than tithing or giving money to the church. Almsgiving is giving money to the poor or performing a sacrificial act of charity. It is when we respond to the needs of those experiencing suffering by doing something to aid them. At Transfiguration, we traditionally give alms during Lent through Episcopal Relief and Development, though you could pick something else. The bottom line is to do more than you’re doing now, because Jesus commands our compassion and generosity, and particularly toward the poor and neglected.
As you’ll hear again on Ash Wednesday, you are invited to the observance of a holy Lent. I hope you accept the invitation.