A Lenten Rule
Allowing God Into Our Life
While we primarily think of Lent as being a time of penitence and preparation for the Resurrection, we should approach it as an opportunity for renewal. When we become Christians, we assume a variety of spiritual disciplines so that we will better follow Jesus. During Lent, we re-dedicate ourselves to these disciplines and make them a bit more stringent. The following disciplines are often elements of a rule of life and can be 'tightened' to keep a holy and invigorating Lent.
1. Corporate Worship
Every Christian assumes an obligation to worship God on Sundays. If we don't already, during Lent, we might take advantage of the parish's daily mass and/or special Lenten devotions (e.g., Stations of the Cross) on a regular basis. For example, we could give ourselves the discipline of attending an extra mass each week.
Prayer is the essential action of Christian life. Without prayer, we allow our relationship with our Lord to wither. During Lent, we might engage in Morning and/or Evening Prayer (or a portion of these offices) as provided in the Prayer Book. We should spend more time in private or personal prayer: giving thanks, making petitions for ourselves, interceding for others, confessing our sins, adoring God. We can meditate on God's presence and activity in our lives. We can meditate on scripture. There are many other forms of meditation, and Fr. Davenport is happy to discuss these with you.
3. Fasting and Abstenance
Jesus fasted in the desert for forty days, and then Satan came and tempted him. Jesus, the second and faithful Adam, resists the temptations, unlike Adam who succumbed and lost paradise. At the end of our Lord's ordeal the angels came and ministered unto him. The Church, therefore, encourages us to fast during the forty days of Lent as we unite ourselves to the mystery of Jesus in the desert. This exercises our spiritual muscles to deepen our life in Christ, to strengthen our character, to resist temptation. Fasting also works as a means of intercession (especially remembering the hungry and those in need) and expresses our sorrow for our sin. The hunger pains we feel have the effect of recalling our attention to God and impressing upon us the need for gratitude for all the gifts which we receive from God, who is our physical and spiritual bread. So we do not fast to diet, but to glorify God.What is fasting? We fast by reducing the amount of food we eat. This means one or two light meals and one full meal late in the day. On Fridays throughout the year, and especially in Lent, we abstain from meat. It is also good to avoid meat on Wednesdays in Lent. Indeed, many abstain from meat all of Lent. This does not apply to children, travelers, the ill, the elderly, and those engaged in heavy labour. We can also fast from things we enjoy, like chocolate, tobacco, and alcohol. We do not fast or abstain on the Sundays in Lent as well as on the Feasts of S. Joseph (19 March) and of the Annunciation of our Lord (25 March). These are feasts and should be kept as such - eat, drink, and always be merry.
4. Spiritual Reading
What are you learning? Where are you working to stretch your heart and your mind. During Lent, we can devote ourselves to study of scripture, say reading a gospel along with a commentary. We can read a book to nourish our awareness of ourselves and of God's presence and activity. Some edifying authors include: Rowan Williams, N.T.Wright, Joan Chittister, Gerald Hughes, Timothy Keller, Henry Nouwen, John Macquarrie, Timothy Radcliffe, Parker Palmer, Marcus Borg, and Ronald Rolheiser. Please also do not hesitate to speak to any of the parish clergy for ideas about what to read this Lent.
5. Ministry, Service, and Good Works
Lent is a good time to reach out to others. This can mean giving time and financial support to charities and community groups as well as the church. Lent can be a catalyst for involvement with those in need. It is also a time to strengthen relationships with everyone we know. We can use this time to drop a note to someone, to visit someone who has difficulty getting out or who is sick, or to do another kind thing for someone.
6. Confession and Reconciliation
Everyone may, and some should, take advantage of the privilege of confessing sin and receiving God's absolution. Use of this sacrament builds trust in God, gratitude, and humility, and it is enormously liberating. As the psalmist says, "Taste and see how gracious the Lord is." When we experience God's mercy, we are more merciful to others. "Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us."
Jesus frequently communed with the Father by going off to a lonely place, by rising early in the morning, and by spending entire nights in prayer. Jesus withdrew to a quiet place to nourish his spirit. A spiritual retreat is a withdrawal from ordinary activities for a period of time to commune with God in prayer and reflection.
8. Time with Family and Friends
Lent provides us with an opportunity to resolve to make time for the most important things in life - for our relationships, for being with others, for quiet time alone. Lent can remind us to enjoy family and friends.
9. Family Prayer
If you don't already, this Lent say grace before your meals. Give thanks to God for sustaining you. We can also spend time each day for special devotions or prayers with family and friends.
10. Cultivating Virtues
We can dedicate Lent to cultivate holiness in a specific virtue. For example, we might spend Lent dedicated to improving our relationships or building friendships or reaching out to strangers. We can try to cultivate a cheerful disposition, gratitude, humility, or good manners. Conversely, we can refrain (fast!) from bad habits, such as feeling sorry for ourselves, or impatience, or gossip, or grumbling, or vulgarity, or speaking ill of others. We can also try to improve our use of time. For example, we might give up television or something we enjoy. We might take on physical exercise. If we work too much and are too serious, we might require ourselves to spend some time goofing off.
11. Physical Activity
An often over-looked way to nourish our minds and spirits is to get physical activity. Physical activity can help to make our minds and spirits more alert and vigorous. While we can become too obsessed with the body, we can also neglect it to our spiritual detriment. Lent can be an opportunity to resolve to improve our treatment of our bodies (temples of the Holy Spirit).
While we have listed many things here, don't take on too much, but don't neglect this great opportunity. Lent is a gift from God, something for which we are grateful and can enjoy.