Lent begins a week from today on Ash Wednesday, February 22. The 40-day season of Lent is a time of preparation for Easter. Sundays in Lent feel a little different: the music is sparser, the silences are longer, the alleluias are gone, and our familiar rhythms are disrupted as we shift to what's called the "penitential order" (see p. 139 of your Book of Common Prayer).
On Sundays during Lent, we will be preaching on "Listening and Looking for God." Using our lectionary readings, we will explore how we hear God's voice, how we recognize it amidst all the other clamoring voices, how we see God's work in the world, how we bring our lives into participation with it. I believe we are all longing to truly hear and see and experience God, and I hope our Lenten Sundays help us do so.
In addition to Sunday changes, Lent is also the traditional time to adopt spiritual disciplines. I know how weary many of us are. I know how the mere thought of disciplines might feel exhausting, restrictive, too much. And yet the paradox of spiritual disciplines is that they can often create space for God to meet us, fill us, and form us. They can expand our capacity to receive more of what we desperately need from God.
And so I'd encourage you not to chuck Lenten disciplines too quickly. Over the next week, I invite you to spend some time in God's presence asking and reflecting on these questions: God, what do I need from you this Lent? What do I want from you this Lent? What spiritual practices might help me receive it?
The traditional Lenten disciplines are prayer, fasting, and almsgiving (or acts of charity). Below is some guidance on each from me and Katie.
There are many ways to incorporate prayer into your Lenten practice. One way we will do this as a congregation is practicing silence. On Sundays after the sermon, instead of our usual response song, we will instead practice silence together, adding one minute every week of Lent. Yes, you read that correctly — by the end of Lent, we will be sitting in 6 minutes of silence (whatever version of "silence" our noisy gym affords us!). We will do it together, it will be stretching, and we will be okay (#keepincarnationweird). To prepare for this time, you may want to check out Josie's video on silence; she prepared this for the children during the pandemic, but I think it may have been even more appreciated by the adults!
Another simple option is to join in the church's existing Zoom prayer times during Lent: midday prayer on Tuesdays and Thursdays; men's morning prayer on Thursdays; women's morning prayer on Fridays. Information and links to join are available on the Online Worship page. I can hardly overstate how meaningful Tuesday and Thursday midday prayer has been for my own spiritual sustenance over the past nearly 3 years. Consider joining us!
Another way to incorporate prayer is by using a Lenten devotional. I love A Way Other than Our Own by Walter Brueggemann and Show Me the Way by Henri Nouwen. There are many other good ones, but I return to these again and again (I'm reading Brueggemann's again this year).
Fellow priest Esau McCaulley has written a new book on Lent, which I just ordered and haven't yet read, but if it's anything like, well, everything else Esau has ever written, then I am confident it will be excellent.
"During Lent, we especially seek the Lord and strive to do his will through prayer and holy scripture. It can help to pick up a special Lenten resource or practice to support this.
Consider asking one of us to hear your confession before the start of Lent and practicing self-examination throughout Lent. Here’s one resource for doing that each week of Lent.
Maybe log on for morning or noon prayer throughout Lent.
Maybe pick up a book of daily prayers especially for Lent. I (Katie) will be reading this one."
If you have a resource to recommend, please drop it in the comments below!
Fasting is simply the act of abstaining from something. The point of fasting is not self-improvement, healthy eating habits, or weight loss, but giving God access to more of ourselves, our bodies, and our calendars. We willingly give up one of God's good gifts for a season so that God might fill that space with himself. Common Lenten fasts include meals (e.g., lunch on Tuesdays), animal products, alcohol, desert, television, or social media.
I strongly encourage you to choose simple, doable fasts over feats of self-mastery. There is no prize for the most difficult fast, and it becomes very easy for the focus to become one's own sense of achievement or failure rather than God himself. (Please note, fasting from food is not recommended for those with a history of disordered eating; consider instead fasting from a non-food item, or taking up a new spiritual practice.)
"We turn our gaze toward ourselves and practice self-discipline and self-control through fasting. Check out this brief article on why Christians fast on Ash Wednesday, Good Friday, and on the weekdays of Lent (and on Fridays excluding the 12 days after Christmas and the 50 days after Easter).
If you’ve never fasted before either from certain foods or from an entire meal, here are some resources for getting you started.
Fasting as a Family by Melissa Naasko
When You Fast… Recipes for Lenten Seasons by Catherine Mandell
More-with-Less Cookbook by Doris Longacre"
Acts of Charity/Almsgiving
Lent is also a traditional time of giving and serving generously. This the kind of fasting described in Isaiah 58:6, which we will read on Ash Wednesday: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?” Look around at the world in all its need. Where is your compassion stirred? Ask God how you might give more generously of yourself toward that area of compassion.
You may want to contribute to ARDF's earthquake relief fund, as Incarnation has done. I spoke to our friends in West Asia yesterday, and the devastation is simply overwhelming. Rescue and rebuilding will take a very, very long time.
In the coming weeks, we will also announce a recipient of our Lent offering. Every year, we collect an offering throughout Lent and Holy Week; 100% of this offering goes to an organization ministering outside our walls. This is an opportunity to give generously and sacrificially toward what God is doing in our world, and to loosen our grip on our finances.
Almsgiving also involves participating in acts of justice and mercy. Perhaps you'd like to take up a simple practice of creation care, such as composting or reducing single-use plastics.
Or consider learning about an issue of injustice from a perspective outside your own, and using this season as an invitation to listen, learn, lament, and pray. Every year just before Lent, Black History Month provides an opportunity to learn from the Black experience in America. Within our province, this event on March 2 featuring multiethnic experiences in the church will provide another opportunity to listen, learn, and engage; it's open to all and hosted by the Next Generation Leadership Initiative, one of our outreach partners.
Finally, you may want to consider learning more about pervasive problem of abuse in the church and how we can reform and renew our churches. I highly recommend this video from a recent online event that Katie and I attended with Esau McCaulley and Rachael Denhollander, which I wrote about in an earlier letter (content warning: abuse).
In all of these areas and many, many more, we participate in the compassion of Jesus that moves us beyond ourselves and into the world's need.
"Through alms-giving, we turn towards others in service. The word alms comes from the Greek word for mercy. And so alms-giving is a participation in the love and mercy of God. Consequently, the season of Lent invites us to be consciously generous with our time, talents, and belonging, but it also asks us to consider whether we are being generous out of our love for others or for other reasons. And when we sense that we are not being merciful for the right reasons, then that is an invitation for us to turn to God and to ask him to transform our hearts so that his love can flow through us through our acts of mercy.
And perhaps in this season, consider other options for extending God’s mercy to others. Perhaps you could use this season to concentrate on caring for the patch of creation that God has entrusted into our care for the sake of everyone’s flourishing. Or think about ways you can act as agent for God’s justice in this season. Here’s a good resource for thinking of both of those things together: Sacred and Desecrated: Forty Days with Wendell Berry
And finally, here’s a resource for busy parents who want to observe a Holy Lent without feeling like a failure or overburdened. Actually, perhaps most of us should check this book out: A Busy Parent’s Guide to a Meaningful Lent by Maria Morrow."
See you on Ash Wednesday at Greenbrier Baptist: 7:30am (Ashes only; no Eucharist) or 7:30pm (Ashes and Eucharist). We'll look and listen for God together this Lent.