I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, 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.Book of Common Prayer, Liturgy for Ash Wednesday, p. 265
In the Anglican-Episcopal tradition, the liturgical season of Lent begins with an invitation to participate in the observance of the season. Active engagement in the season of preparation for Easter is for all Christians, lay people and ordained ministers alike. It’s not simply a matter of “giving up something for Lent.” The “something” is often a little luxury that a person enjoys, but thinks is probably bad for them, like chocolate. The liturgy does not mention chocolate, or meat on Fridays! Instead, the invitation is to look deep within oneself, in self-examination and repentance for the sinfulness that we all find there when our self-appraisals are honest. Prayer, fasting, and self-denial are all time-honored spiritual disciplines that are encouraged throughout the year, but practiced in a more focused way during Lent. The result is a picture of ourselves as God sees us, which leads to authentic contrition and commitment to follow God’s plan for us.
During Lent we may practice self-denial by giving something up, or by taking something on that will benefit those who rely on God’s providence most. When Lenten observance is grounded and shaped by engagement with God’s Word, we are assured that we are following God’s direction and not our own self-centered wishes. Granted, it’s not as straightforward as giving up chocolate or meat, but it’s not complicated either. In fact, the intent is to un-complicate this contemplative season. Well-thought-through rules eliminate the stress of worrying whether we’re doing something “right,” and they help simplify decision-making, thus reducing stress. For example, if your Lenten commitment is to attend a Lenten program such as a mid-week worship service or study, there is no decision to be made each week on Wednesday. Attendance is a given. Attention is freed up to focus on the message and content of the event.
Rather than being worrisome weights, spiritual disciplines have been proven over centuries to be effective ways to improve our relationship with God and with his creation. Here are a few ideas:
- Choose Lenten practices that help you live more simply. Simple should also mean less stressful, so if a practice seems to produce more stress, that’s a signal that it either isn’t a good choice or expectations are unreasonable. For example, I might decide to begin each day in Lent by reading a chapter in a book on spirituality, but then discover that my stress about time for meeting other responsibilities has increased. That tells me that reading a chapter at the start of each day is not the right choice for me: it may take too much time, or my mornings may need to be allocated to other tasks. I should look for another type of reading material, or try reading at another time during my daily routine, or choose another form of practice, such as a short emailed meditation. (see suggested resources below)
- Structure your Lenten practice to incorporate contributing to the well-being of others. For example, I might redirect the money that I would usually spend on a treat for myself (a daily specialty coffee drink? weekly movie night? a new book or magazine purchase?) toward a charitable fund or organization that will use it to meet needs of less fortunate people. Another example: if I commit to spending a set period of time in prayer every day during Lent, I can make that practice benefit others by devoting that prayer time to interceding on behalf of people who need God’s healing, strength, peace, discernment, or other comforts of his presence.
These are only a couple of ideas. There are many more ways to combine sacred practice with simplicity. Please share your suggestions – and, if you would, how they worked for you – in the comments.
A final word: The essential component of any approach to the observance of a holy Lenten is authenticity. Going through the motions for the sake of outward appearances will not benefit you spiritually. Jesus talked about the Pharisees who loved to make public displays as they prayed aloud in the synagogue and on street corners, and who adopted facial expressions of deprivation to advertise when they were fasting. Their reward, said Jesus, would be limited to the recognition or respect they gained from others who were fooled. But they couldn’t fool God, who knew what was in their hearts, and we can’t fool him either.
Further blog posts during this Lenten season will focus on some of the spiritual practices that have proven helpful to Christians through the ages, and on the gifts of a holy Lent.
Resources for Online Lenten Meditations
Breaking the Bread – from Paraclete Press; delivered daily
Go to https://paracletepress.com. Click on link under “Stay in Touch” and provide email address in box.
Episcopal Relief and Development – delivered weekly
Go to https://episcopalrelief.org. Click on Church in Action, then Church Campaigns, then Lent. Click on purple button “Subscribe to Lenten Meditations Daily Emails.” Provide information requested.
Our Daily Bread – delivered daily
Go to https://odb.org. Click on Email. Fill in required information. (Can be delivered via Email or Mobile app.)
Verse and Voice – from Sojourners; delivered daily
Go to https://sojo.net. Fill in required information under Subscribe.