INTRODUCTION: THE LENTEN JOURNEY
When I was a kid, I only knew three things about Lent: soup, fish and giving stuff up.
I had many Roman Catholic friends who gave up eating meat during Lent and went to fish frys every Friday. Many of the adults I knew were giving up something for Lent—chocolate, soda, brushing their teeth, etc… In my own quasi-liturgical faith community, our Lenten practice was soup every Thursday. (To be fair, Lenten services were also accompanied by prayer and worship, but the only part I remember is the SOUP).
As you might imagine, I had little sense of what the season of Lent was actually meant to be about, especially when people use the opportunity to give up something for Lent to support a new diet rather than giving up something that then creates space for God.
Lent is one of the Church’s earliest liturgical seasons, dating back to around 330. It is a 40 day fast preceding Holy Week and Easter, in which we observe and emulate Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the desert (Matthew 4:1-11, Mark 1:12-13, and Luke 4:1-13).
It is a call to hold fast in faith no matter the temptations, trials, or deaths we face. And it is a season in which we practice this call.
Joan Chittister, in her book The Liturgical Year, writes this of Lent:
“Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications
of the Resurrection in our own lives, here and now.
But that demands both the healing of the soul and the honing of the soul,
both penance and faith, both a purging of what is superfluous
in our lives and the heightening, the intensifying, of what is meaningful.”
Many years after the whole soup-Lent mix-up, I decided to try a Lenten fast through an organization I supported financially—Blood:Water Mission. 40 Days of Water, as it is called, is a fast from all beverages except tap water for all of Lent. But here’s the kicker—it wasn’t just a fast from beverages. In addition to the fast, you were asked to collect all the money you might have spent on coffee, soda, etc… and donate it to Blood:Water Mission at the end of the fast.
It was both an act of fasting and an act of giving.
IN SHADES OF DEATH
Phyllis Tickle describes pilgrimage as “wandering after God.”
The temptation of Jesus in the wilderness occurs early on in his public ministry. In a sense, Jesus’ baptism and temptation become the departure point of his call and ministry.
It is fascinating, and quite comforting, to realize that Jesus’ ministry and the beginning of his pilgrimage began in such raw vulnerability. He persisted in his wandering after God in the face of hunger, the temptation of power, and idolatry. Jesus’ pilgrimage began in exile.
This wandering after God is a paradoxical sort of thing. We know oh so well these places of vulnerability that Jesus experienced in the wilderness.
And we think that setting off on our own pilgrimage will bring us new life. Somehow, if we leave behind all we know and wander after God, we will be transformed, renewed, and invigorated.
This is all true. But we sometimes forget (or more likely deny) an essential part of the journey that Christ participated fully in: death. In order for that transformation, renewal, and invigoration that we long for to be realized, something must die.
We know death so well, don’t we? We’ve lost our loved ones to disease, accidents, and old age. We’ve lost our friends over irreconcilable differences or betrayal. We’ve our lost jobs, our houses, our fortunes, and our faith. We’ve lost our marriages, our children, and our hope. We’ve lost our dignity, our trust, our ambition, and our humility. We’ve lost our confidence, our grace, our courage, and our ability to love well.
I recently came across an old hymn that has this beautiful line—
“the Light has shined on them who long in shades of death have been.”
I haven’t been able to get the phrase “in shades of death” out of my head.
What does it mean that we are living in shades of death? American culture really sanitizes death. We give it other names like “sleep” or “rest.” If we do talk about death and grief, we usually only talk about it in regards to physical death. We fail to see or acknowledge the hundreds of other deaths we experience in daily life.
This is what I think living “in shades of death” captures—the spectrum of death and loss that is so intimate a part of human experience. Though we are all on the same journey, we experience our deaths and losses in different degrees for different lengths of time.
What are the vulnerabilities and shades of death you are experiencing in this season of life? How might you engage those vulnerabilities and shades of death in your Lenten practices this year? What are the vulnerabilities and shades of death that bid you on a journey wandering after God?
BONUS! LENTEN PRACTICES
Join me this Lenten season in our wandering through one or more of these spiritual practices:
Fasting is an ancient practice and the practice most significantly tied to the season of Lent. It is the act of refraining from something, whether it be food, drink, activity, or a vast number of other things.
- Reflect on the kind of fasting described in Isaiah 58:6–7. In what ways might you participate in this manner of fasting in your community during Lent?
- Consider participating in Blood:Water Mission’s 40 Days of Water
- Resources: Fasting by Scot McKnight
- Just simply ask yourself this question throughout the day: “Where have I see God today?”
The Daily Office
The Daily Office is a set of prayers said throughout the day. When we pray the prayers of the Office, we pray with the Church’s voice, with the spirit of the Liturgical season, and with the Psalms.
- Consider writing your own morning, midday, and evening prayers. Include the language, symbols, and imagery that are most important to you in this season of your life. Pray these prayers daily during the season of Lent. How does these prayers draw you toward or away from God?
- Resources: In Constant Prayer by Robert Benson, Northumbria’s Celtic Daily Prayer book, Common Prayer for Ordinary Radicals, The Book of Common Prayer, The Daily Office West
- Pray through these Lenten Lectionary Prayers
Prayer of Examen
- Use the wonderful resource Examen.me to record your prayers and experiences
- Be still and recognize the presence of God.
- Look at your day with gratitude. Offer your thanks to God.
- Review your day. When did you feel like you were cooperating with God’s action in your life. When were you resisting?
- What habits and patterns did you notice? When did you feel most alive? When did you feel most drained? When did you feel most whole? When did you feel most fragmented?
- Reconcile and resolve to move forward. Seek forgiveness from God and resolve to seek forgiveness from other if needed. Ask God for direction and guidance.
Progressive lectio divina
Lectio divina is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer. (Read a more thorough how-to here.)
- Choose 5 places of significance to you; these can be various spaces around your home or your community, or any other locations. Visit one of these sites each week of Lent and practice the Lectio there. Perhaps end at the place of highest importance to your spiritual journey.
- Consider using passages of your choosing from the Lectionary passages for this year, Year C (2013).
- Light a candle or place some other symbol before you to focus your attention.
- Read or listen to a small portion of scripture. Listen for a word or phrase that attracts you. Write it down.
- Read or listen to the same portion of scripture again. Listen for the the personal resonance of the word or phrase selected.
- Ask: “How is my life touched?” Take a few moment to journal or draw in response to this question.
- Read or listen to the same portion of scripture for a third time. Once again, you are listening for the places in which the scripture personally resonates.
- Ask: “Is there an invitation to respond here?” Take a few moments to journal or draw in response to this question.
- Pray about the ways in you feel called to respond.