In worship last Sunday, when I asked in the children’s message what we do in Lent, someone said, “You give up your favorite things.” I, however, heard “You give up your favorite sins,” much to the delight of many in the congregation if the laughter was any indication. There’s certainly a measure of truth in both, yet the child’s actual definition was by far the more useful. After all, we should be giving up our sins all the time, including our favorite ones!
The more orthodox notion of giving something up in Lent is not so much related to one’s favorite things, but rather to fasting. This means eating only one full meal a day and, in many cases, abstaining from eating meat. One can also abstain from certain activities or behaviors, like giving up chocolate or those expensive coffees from Starbucks or Dunkin’ Donuts. Some choose to take the money they save by not buying luxury items and give it to the church at Easter to distribute to those in need.
Abstaining can be an extremely valuable practice. Adding something can be too, depending on whether or not it feeds one’s soul. Adopting a new spiritual practice can be a rich experience. It could be as simple as reading the Bible daily for ten minutes or spending five minutes at night writing in a gratitude journal. There are many spiritual practices (ways of communing with the Divine) and in the next few weeks I’ll explain some of them here, starting tomorrow with Lectio Divina (Sacred Reading).
I invite you on this journey and encourage you to earnestly consider the Lenten practice or practices that will be most meaningful for you. Remember that grace abounds and it’s OK to build up to a discipline rather than attempting too much all at once and feeling you’re failing when lapses occur, as they inevitably do. I’m not in favor of cookie-cutter approaches and feel it’s important for each of us to create space to learn about and adopt practices that work uniquely for us and our individual quests to draw closer to the Divine.
As Ash Wednesday approaches, I offer you this Lenten blessing from the Roman Catholic tradition:
Merciful God, you called us forth from the dust of the earth;
you claimed us for Christ in the waters of baptism.
Look upon us as we enter these Forty Days bearing the mark of ashes, and bless our journey through the desert of Lent to the font of rebirth.
May our fasting be hunger for justice;
our alms, a making of peace;
our prayer, the chant of humble and grateful hearts.
All that we do and pray is in the name of Jesus.
For in his cross you proclaim your love for ever and ever.