Thursday, March 1, 2012

365 Days of Lent?

An adaptation of my article from The Manifest for March 2012
“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 word.” Book of Common Prayer, page 265

What makes a Lent “holy” or otherwise?

Joe Zorawick intrigued me with something he said in his sermon last week: the idea that Lent should be a year-round activity, and not just a 40 day activity. In one sense, I think he’s very right: Lent should not be the time when we do for 40 days what we should really be doing the other 325 days of the year. Bible study, prayer, self-examination and repentance should happen thoughout the year, not just during Lent. And the Easter feast is not about gorging unhealthily on candy or meat or wine—or ceasing prayer and Bible study. The Easter feast is about renewing our joy and celebrating with a foretaste of that feast which is to come: the heavenly banquet. At its best, celebrating is not about slacking off—it’s about embracing joy with heart, mind, and soul.

So it might be good to think about Lent as spring training. Lent is the time when we can work out muscles that have become rusty or slack, and build up our endurance so that we can run the longer race ahead of us. It’s not a New Year’s resolution we only have to keep for 40 days; it’s a starting place to remind us of what our whole lives should be about.

When I was in high school, I once gave up ice cream for Lent because the soccer team went out for ice cream and I had no money with me. I didn’t want to borrow, and so I gave the excuse that I had given up ice cream for Lent. The only good thing about this was that I did feel compelled to maintain that discipline for the rest of the 40 days. But we can be awfully trivial in what we do for Lent, and motivated by things other than devotion to Jesus.

So what are you doing for Lent this year? What exercises are you doing, what spiritual muscles are you stretching? The Prayer Book gives a pretty good overview of the categories to consider--self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, self-denial, reading and meditating on God’s word. If you haven’t come up yet with your “Lenten discipline”it’s not too late. Start with self-examination: where in your life do you need deeper faith, discipline? And then maybe pick one thing, one area to work on this Lent. And to whom are you accountable for keeping to that discipline? It it’s just you and God, you may need a third party to keep you honest--tell someone what you’re doing, and ask them to check in with you in a week or two. I’m happy to serve as a goad for anyone who needs one.

I realize that what would make a Lent holy for me is if it was lasting: if the disciplines I took up during Lent were disciplines I decided to make part of my life for the other 325 days of the year. As an example, every Lent, Jonathan and I commit to saying or singing Compline together before we go to bed. It’s a good discipline, we usually enjoy it, and there’s no reason why we shouldn’t do it all year round. But we get busy, he goes to bed later than I do, and it’s easy to slip into the routine of not praying together. I’m rethinking our Lenten commitment this year; wondering if we might continue it through the Easter season so that we can sing all the “alleluias” with the psalms and canticle. It feels like it will be easier to continue it if there’s something to look forward to--and looking forward to “Alleluia” is pretty compelling at this point! I hope you will all keep me honest--ask Jonathan and I how we’re doing on Compline the next time you see us.
And if we keep doing it, we will keep being able to say together my very favorite prayer from the BCP, which is in the Compline service:
Keep watch, dear Lord, with those who work, or watch or weep this night; and give your angels charge over those who sleep.  Tend the sick, Lord Christ; give rest to the weary, bless the dying, soothe the suffering, pity the afflicted, shield the jouous; and all for your love's sake. Amen.

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