“Lent comes providentially to reawaken us, to shake us from our lethargy.”
Around this time of the year I start to get excited. The long dark nights are definitely retreating and there are the first hopeful signs that spring is just around the corner. Birds are warming up their vocals and a few brave bulbs are poking gingerly through the soil.
Just as nature anticipates and prepares for the return of warmth and light so God has given us the spiritual season of Lent to prepare us for Holy Week and the climax of the church year: Resurrection Sunday.
The Anglo Saxon word from which Lent is derived means ‘lengthen’ referring to the lengthening of the days as spring approaches. Lent is an opportunity to open our selves up to God’s light and power. We shouldn’t focus too much on our own efforts: it is God’s sun that calls forth the lengthening of the days; it is God’s Son who calls forth the ‘lengthening’ of our spiritual lives.
Lent is an opportunity to both pick something up from God and to put something down. It’s not just sacrifice and self-denial, a ‘putting aside the deeds of darkness’ but a positive ‘clothing ourselves with Christ’ (Romans 13:14)
Lent is an invitation from the Trinity: an invitation to go deeper into the love of the Father; to identify with the Son in his obedience, suffering and resurrection; to enter more fully into the life of the Spirit who has been poured out upon us.
So before we decide what shape our Lenten journey should take we might want to ask ourselves a few questions:
- Is there someone I am struggling to forgive? Do I need to forgive myself or receive God’s forgiveness? Could Lent be a chance to see breakthrough in these areas?
- Is there some sin or habit that is preventing me from loving God with all my heart or my neighbour as myself? How can I address this issue over Lent?
- When I wake up on Easter Sunday, how do I want to be different?
A season of joy
Although there needs to be a certain solemnity about the season, we should also approach it with a sense of joy and anticipation. And joy is something we should always be intentional about; especially if life is getting us down.
So how about setting aside time to:
- Read a few pages of a favourite inspirational author each day. If nothing springs to mind, the Chronicles of Narnia are worth revisiting regularly. I also recommend devotionals aimed at Lent, for example, N.T. Wright, Richard Rohr, Phyllis Tickle or Bishop Graham Tomlin.
- Institute a ‘discipline of daily-delight’. Take time out each day to get a joy injection. This could be a favourite DVD, CD or TV show, an hilarious Youtube video, time spent in worship or anything that will lift your spirits.
Another idea is the discipline of simply being outside with God for a time each day. One way of doing the latter would be to get off the bus or tube one stop before your destination so you can walk the difference.
- Take a ‘joy journey’ as a kind of pilgrimage over lent. Use the 6 weekends over lent to; visit beautiful or inspiring churches or cathedrals (including or excluding services); take a long walk in different stunning locations; visit inspirational art galleries or museums. Don’t just visit as a tourist but as a seeker after the face of God, thinly hidden under the veil of beauty
A season of sacrifice
Of course the most common expression of marking the season is to ‘give something up for Lent’. Historically this has meant not eating meat or other foods such as eggs, dairy products or sometimes fish. In the Western church the fasting would last for 6 days a week with Sunday’s exempt. The practice has often been to eat no food until around 3pm.
In the past I have tended to approach lent as an opportunity to deal with bad habits. Having a sweet tooth I have often tried to curb my chocolate and sugar consumption.
The main aim, however, shouldn’t be about losing weight or even becoming healthy but about the spiritual journey of transformation.
(If you’re looking for idea’s of what might need addressing then try the ‘piercedhands’ website which lists 100 ideas)
Keeping both the planet and soul in mind why not consider the following:
- Try unplugging. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, TV and Youtube amongst others can all become addictive. Don’t just switch off; use the time to ‘switch on’ something transformative for Lent.
- Try simpler meals. Reducing or cutting out meat, dairy or sugar. Cutting out snacks or desserts. Trying a ‘WWJD” diet (what would Jesus drink) of water and wine! How about halving portion sizes. Money saved on any of the above could go towards feeding the hungry.
- Reduce shopping to a minimum. Use your credit or debit card only for essentials (food for example). “Put down’ your shopping bags and ‘pick up’ something that fills that gap.
- Give something away every day. Books, clothes, DVD’s, furniture, toys; the list is endless.
A Prayer for Lenten Grace
During the sacred season of Lent, bring me closer to you.
Prepare a place in my home and in my heart for silence and solitude,
so that I may re-discover the grace of a prayer-full life.
Help me to fast from those things that threaten the well-being of body and soul and remind me of the grace of simplicity.
Enlarge my heart so that I give to those in need and, in doing so, re-discover the grace of gratitude and generosity.
May this season be a grace-filled time to rekindle my love for and faith in you.