During the four weeks leading up to Christmas, I spent special time focusing on the Christmas story. This year I learned a lesson that I am still unfolding –> that God speaks to each of us in a unique way that especially geared to our temperament, our personality, our place in life, and our calling. In fact, I learned that God speaks in many, many ways.
So, now we find ourselves at the beginning of Lent.
Lent began soon after Jesus’ death (by soon, I mean within 70 to 100 years), where Christians would sit vigil for the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection.
By 325 AD or so, the Church had begun to feel a systemic need for discipleship and knowing who was ‘in’ and who was ‘out’ (thanks to persecutions). Lent became a time (not 40 days at first), where new Christians had concentrated discipleship in preparation for baptism on Easter Sunday. By 600 or so AD, the practice had spread to the whole church.
Lent is primarily marked (for the liturgical church) by prayer, fasting, repentance, almsgiving and self denial. To this list, I would add lectio divina (scripture reading, meditating, prayer and contemplation). Seeing as these are some of the primary spiritual disciplines, I see no reason why one shouldn’t engage in the practice of Lent in preparation of a better understanding of what Jesus’ death and resurrection means today.
What is a spiritual discipline? It is a discipline undertaken for the purpose of removing more of the layers of self, and allowing the Spirit of God to speak to us more. For instance, when one fasts, the body doesn’t have to spend energy digesting food, so one has more time and energy (in the form of less dulled senses) to focus on what God is saying.
During the next 40 days, I plan to spend time in the Easter story, learning what I can from it. I expect that I will learn something new, much like I did at Christmas. I suppose that I should know by tomorrow what I intend to do as for spiritual disciplines. I think it might be interesting to try a different one each week, under-girding the whole experience with the study of scripture. (Although fasting and self denial are listed separately in the Lent list of spiritual disciplines, I’m not sure how they are different, given my rather broad definition of fasting.)
Someone posted recently that they didn’t do lent anymore because they now follow Jesus. I think I understand this thought. If one spent most of their life going to church and having a form of religion, and actual relationship is a day and night change. However, for those of us raised outside the liturgical church traditions, the use of spiritual disciplines doesn’t strike the same cord. For us, it is an opportunity to understand God more, and to engage in this relationship on a new level – much like the saints of old who first discovered the disciplines.
I do have an ongoing discussion in the back of my head, tho. Some of the saints didn’t seem quite balanced by today’s standards – St. Antony specifically. How does one grow close to God without losing touch with planet Earth? I don’t want to be like one of the saints in the early church.
I’d rather be like Jesus, Peter or Paul, who managed to love other people, sit with other people, walk, talk, eat and enjoy life while spreading the good news of life and relationship for eternity. Yet, even Peter, John and Paul all lost their lives, and in the face of some, their reputations, for the sake of the gospel.
So, perhaps the first thing to ‘give up’ for Lent is my desire for control. To instead focus on God and all He wants to show me through this season of the year.