The season of Lent began last week on Ash Wednesday, which marks the 40 day period of waiting for Holy Week. Lent is a time of cleaning out our lives, remembering the frailty of life, reflecting on God and preparing space for the pinnacle of the Christian calendar that comes with Holy Week.
A Catholic author recently wrote,
“The spirit of Len is expressed in the traditional three prongs of prayer, self-denial, and almsgiving. We are asked to intensify our awareness of the need for more room for God in our lives by embarking on a regime of increased prayer, spiritual reading, quiet time for reflection, making the Stations of the Cross especially on Fridays of Lent, etc.”
This is a great introduction for thinking about Lent because all Christians can and should focus on the “three-prongs,” no matter what church tradition you’re from. This is a time to make space for God, it’s spring cleaning for the self and it’s something we all need.
Lent is a time for fasting and making sacrifice to God. These are some of the reasons why people will ask, “What have you given up for Lent?” This question expresses the “purifying value” of the season. There is a flip side to Lent as well, we participate in Lent by also taking something on. It is a time for us to fill our lives with something of God. One might ask, “What have you taken on?” And in this we may respond with various ways in which we are practicing spiritually formation. Some of these ways can be spending more time in prayer, silence, spiritual reading, as well as serving the poor, and giving to others.
But what about stations of the cross for protestants?: While not all Protestants normally participate in the stations of the cross, I would encourage it this year for three reasons. First it’s a visceral practice that involves the whole body in prayer and reflection upon Christ’s sacrifice. Secondly, it’s a way of showing openness and hospitality for other Christian traditions. Third, you will be moved by the beautiful creativity and art expressed in much of the Catholic liturgy. Also check out the Living Room for some great resources.
A Reflections on the Finiteness of Life: Ash Wednesday is a day where we make a call for repentance, death to the self, and begin again with a clean start. Last Wednesday, we had a very quiet meditative service (the kind Quakers particularly like!) with short, repetitive hymns, reading of Psalms and spreading ashes on the forehead at the Mennonite Church where we attend. The part that stood out to me the most was when I got up to get ashes on my forehead, I wasn’t prepared for what the pastor uttered to, “Wess, Remember that you are Dust!”
And with that God broke into my space and challenged me to participate in Lent this year in ways I haven’t in the past. I was reminded that I often live as though I am much more than dust, and outside the realm of what I can physically, and spiritually handle. I felt a the leading to “die to myself.”
My history with Lent is unheroic. I grew up a Catholic, but was pretty nominal, and remember that during Lent I’d give up things like chocolate and candy. I did little reflection on the importance of starting over, remembering that we all die and need reconciliation with God, or the importance of spiritual spring-cleaning. And it’s only recently that I’ve begun to realize the importance of all this stuff. Our lives are so flooded with things that distract us from God that we need moments built into our lives and calendars that help force us back toward the center. These spiritual rhythms are increasingly important in a world where competing rhythms pull at us from ever direction.
Here are some things I am practicing this Lent that aim at the “three-prongs” motioned above.
I am curious to hear about other’s experiences with Lent, and some possible practices you’ve put in place this year (or in years past) that have helped you draw near to God, clean out your space and start over again.