Spring is just around the corner and with spring comes the beautiful season of Easter. But like the season of spring, we first must endure the season of winter. Winter can be cold, dreary and harsh. But with winter’s snow and blue skies, winter can also be beautiful and invigorating. Before we celebrate the season of Easter, we must first experience the season of Lent. For some, Lent can be dreary and harsh but it also can be beautiful and invigorating, preparing us for Easter. We have a choice. May we choose to make the season of Lent an opportunity to grow closer with our resurrected Lord and with our communities of faith.
In the “old days,” the Church used to talk about “giving up something for Lent.” This was a way of encouraging people to “do without,” in order to strengthen our discipline (discipleship) and remind ourselves that our life does not consist in the things we have (or do not have), but is rooted in our relationship with God. So people would fast during Lent, or give up a particular food or practice they enjoyed, or give up some of their money to support good causes. These can still be useful practices for us, if we use them to help us reflect on our life and call as God’s children and as followers of Jesus.
Sometimes, nowadays, you will hear a different suggestion – that instead of “giving something up” for Lent, we “take something up” for Lent. This might be a new spiritual practice, such as daily prayer, devotion, or Bible reading; a service activity such as volunteering in the community; weekly worship (for those for whom this is not already an established habit) – or some other way that we seek to turn ourselves outward toward God and neighbor, in ways that may help us encounter Christ in our daily life. These can also be useful practices.
We do these sorts of things – taking up or letting go – not in order to gain favor with God, or earn points toward our salvation, but in order to open up a new space in our life where the Holy might be experienced. You all know that life can get so full of stuff and nonsense that the things that really matter start to get squeezed out – time with God, time with family and friends, time spent in active love of neighbor, stranger, and enemy. Time to breathe. Time to think.
What might you do this Lenten Season to open that door to the Holy? It could be something as simple as posting a favorite Bible verse on your Facebook page each day. As naming aloud three things for which you are grateful at the end of each day. As praying your way around the world with a map and the evening news, remembering day by day those in physical need, those we think of as our opponents, those who live in fear, those who live in thoughtless comfort. As writing a note or making a phone call to those you haven’t spoken with in a while. A Lenten practice can be as simple or as profound as you want to make it. But whatever it might be, it helps to be able to reflect upon it, and to ask yourself where you saw God present in what you experienced.
The writer is the pastor at St. Michael Parish, Fort Loramie and Ss. Peter & Paul Parish, Newport.