Friends, we are well into our season of Lent. I have come to see this season as an invitation by Christ to lean in to be in him and with him in union with the Father, through the strength of the Holy Spirit.
The idea of Lent and its practices have developed over many centuries of Christianty. Our word we use today, Lent, is from the Anglo Saxon lencten, meaning Spring. It began as a preparation for the Easter feast. St. Irenaeus (140-202 AD) speaks of a 40 hour fast:
For the dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual form of the fast. For some think that they should fast one day, others two, others again more; some for that matter, count their day as consisting of 40 hours day and night.
By the Council of Nicea in 325 AD, a period of 40 days is recorded, associating Christ’s 40 days in the wilderness with the time of preparation for Easter. It became associated with Baptism (interestingly, reversing the order of Christ’s baptism and wilderness time) as a time of purification and penitence.
Lent can be seen as a journey — initially as a journey into the church, and then later as a journey of spiritual growth. It has “parts” to it — Scriptures, psalms, prayers, rituals, practices, and penance. Today, the season is often a time to become more aware of the role of sin in our lives. And importantly, this awareness should always be grounded in the foundation of the love and acceptance of God. It can be especially helpful to meditate on the passion of the Lord — his suffering and death. Lent is often a season of confession — the Sacrament of Reconciliation in some churches. What is common to the various approaches to Lent is the Benedictine concept of “conversion of life”. We are always being made new, always beginning again.
Thomas Merton in Seasons of Celebration says that Lent is not a season of punishment but a season of healing — entering into the Kingdom of God and growing in Christ likeness. It is a season of choice (Deut. 30: 15-20) The Lord sets before us a choice between life and death. Choose the way of the Lord – the way of true life – so that you may enter into the eternal rest of eternity. Choose that which leads to your true self and away from your false self. The Lord extends his mercy and grace to each of us for our help with this choice.
This Lent, I’d like to encourage you to prayerfully, with the Lord’s help, seek out a discipline of self-denial and pair that with a discipline of taking on a spiritual practice (such as more prayer or scripture reading.) Ask the Lord to use these disciplines to lead you into kingdom action.
I’d like to leave you with 2 verses of Scripture that are always particularly meaningful for me during this time:
- “Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations. I will be exalted in the earth!” The Lord of hosts is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.” Psalm 46:10
- “For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I have been fully known.” 1 Cor 13:12
P.S. If you are in the habit of a nightly Examen, or even if you are not, one excellent practice during lent is looking back over your day and asking these questions: where in my day did I know something about myself? where in my day did I know something about God? where in my day did I feel known by God? What responses do you have for God?