Today I’m linking up with Elizabeth Esther and her gentle Lent movement. Learn more about Elizabeth’s declaration for a gentle Lent here and read the rest of the posts in the linkup here. We’ll also hear more about Lent this Wednesday from our Liturgical Guide, Katie Jensen.
I’ve only been in the liturgical world for a few years now. In fact, it was Lent that initially drew me toward liturgy. I knew of the season growing up only through those around me who gave up junk food like chocolate or potato chips. I’m sure giving up things like that can be meaningful in a way, because they can be so tempting that they offer plenty of opportunity to remind us why we’re fasting in the first place, but I never loved that it perpetuated a diet-mentality. Sometimes I wondered if the lost pounds were more motivation than the desire to draw closer to God in imitation of Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness.
The first year I participated in Lent I gave up watching the Today Show every morning. It had been a staple in my morning routine for years, and yet always made me feel rushed. Though I missed mornings with Meredith and Matt and was a bit behind on the news during that spring, I was surprised by how much time I had in the morning when I didn’t watch—time to move slowly, time to sit in silence, time to go deeper. That experience transformed my perspective of Lent (which, admittedly, was a bit skewed all along). To me, Lent was no longer a season of withholding. Instead, it was a time set aside for making space.
I don’t think Jesus went into the wilderness just to fast. He could have fasted anywhere. And if drawing near to God was purely experienced through reading Scripture, perhaps he should have stuck closer to the temple. But he didn’t. Instead he spent 40 days in the desert. He was seeking out space to sink deeper into his humanity, draw closer to God, and further prepare for his work in the world. We’ve got a contemplative on our hands, folks. And he was onto something.
Over the past many weeks and months I have been longing for space in my life. (Maybe you’ve picked up on it?) And with Lent approaching, I’ve been wondering what I might do to create space in this season of letting go. I thought I was onto something when I decided perhaps I could give up saying “yes” during the season of Lent—Yes, I’ll do it. Yes, I’ll go. Yeah, it’s okay—no problem! But then I realized I’ll be gone nearly the entire Lenten season. I had already said yes to everything imaginable.
With my only good idea gone I wasn’t sure what I would do for Lent, and I certainly had no idea how I might get the space my soul so desperately needed if I was going to be away from home for five weeks straight. And then last week I read a post by Elizabeth Esther inviting readers to join her for a gentle Lent. She had me at the title—gentle is just the thing I need in this busy season ahead.
“If you’re like me,” she says in the post, “you probably need less doing this Lent and more being.” Yes, yes, yes! Oh, Elizabeth—a thousand times yes!
As the word gentle began swirling in my mind and stirring in my soul, I realized that although five weeks away from home during the season of Lent seems like a whole lot of doing in my book, each week will be in a spacious setting with gentle days that inspire not doing, but being. With one week on the beach in San Diego, two weeks on pilgrimage in Ireland, and two more weeks spent in the desert with fellow contemplatives, this Lenten season I just might have more space than I could have ever imagined, all lined up in a row.
My duty this Lenten season, then, is to remember to stay present in these spacious places. But it’s going to be hard—my mind runs on busy like it’s fuel. It’s toxic, however, and gets me the worst mileage. This Lenten season I’ll need something more sustainable, and that’s where the word gentle comes in.
I don’t have anything specific I’ll be giving up for Lent this year. I’ve already said yes to everything, after all. But I’m going to hold tightly to the word gentle as a reminder to make space to go deeper in these full weeks ahead. I want to be gentle with myself and gentle with my days. I suppose gentle could also mean intentional, and I want that, too.
If that means a few missed posts or newsletters, so be it. If being gentle this Lent means late emails and getting behind on social media, the world won’t end. And if half the things on my to-do list are left undone, that’s okay—I won’t be home to do them anyway. I’ll be at the edge of the water, at the top of the hill, and in the heart of the wilderness seeking out space and drawing closer to the Sacred.
Do you practice Lent? How might you use this season to make more space in your life?