I don’t usually give anything up for Lent. Our house church follows the liturgical church year, but taking on this ancient practice is certainly not mandatory. We are not formal like that.
Last year, however, my friend Bev decided to give up running for a while as she dealt with a muscle strain. It happened to be the beginning of Lent and it helped her to take the humble path as she gave her limitations up to God. Her example got me reflecting for this year’s Lent, wondering what I could give up.
I’d begun thinking about taking on this practice because I’d realized how busy my morning “prayer time” had become. A half-hour that’s supposed to be about prayer almost felt like a 3-ring circus. With a laptop balanced on my lap, I usually began by journalling about how the previous day had gone, or how sore my neck felt. Sometimes during journalling, I’d get an e-mail and the temptation to be distracted came up. I’d also journal prayers for the day after reading the day’s scripture, but lately it had left a taste in my mouth of skittering around the surface of life, like a water beetle that never goes deeper. Today’s multi-media, digital generation, with our screens and constant “connectedness” left me inattentive to the deeper life of God.
Strangely, I began remembering years ago, when I used to take yoga classes, how we always began each class with meditation. The quiet, reflective and profound Ash Wednesday service we had a few weeks previous left me wanting more. And so it was one day, remembering Bev’s example, I had the thought, “Why not give up journalling for Lent?”
I love writing. Bringing order to my thoughts by tapping on the keyboard is one of the ways my batteries are recharged each week, but it was the way I was going about it that got me asking the question. I wondered what purpose each day’s journal entry was serving. After sharing my thoughts with Bev, I decided to give it up as an experiment for the 40 days of Lent, and to sit in silence more intentionally.
The tradition of giving something up for Lent comes from a story about Jesus from the New Testament. Jesus went into the desert wilderness and fasted and prayed for 40 days and 40 nights. This story is usually told at the beginning of Lent, and precedes Easter. Jesus was grappling with the difficult path ahead of him. He faced temptations, hunger and loneliness. The last thing he wanted, humanly speaking, was to turn away from worldly fame and to face the difficulties that came from his calling, but of course that’s exactly what he did. What motivated him was the love he had for God, and what he felt God was calling him to. People in generations since have followed Jesus’ footsteps because of this story. Easter resurrection can not happen without dying to the self.
It’s now been almost 3 weeks since that Ash Wednesday service. I have been using the book Wondrous Encounters by Richard Rohr, which I wrote about last week. I read each day’s meditation and scripture, and then sit with the starter prayer that Rohr provides. No tapping on my keyboard. No “ping” sound from my e-mail server to let me know about new messages. No big production. Just silence, listening for what God is saying. Listening for prayers that might be bubbling up from within. Since our living room lights have developed a strange high-pitched sound lately, I even sit with only one light on. No one else is up. It’s just me, my coffee, my cats snoozing beside me, and the prayer.
You might find yourself thinking, “Boy, she’s sure trying hard!” The last thing I want is for people to think I’m some spiritual saint. I’m not. It’s more like surrendering and letting go, and just listening. Lord knows I have enough static constantly going on in my brain from all my anxieties and negative thoughts. What I desire most deeply, and what I need like air, is to listen to God. There’s a verse that says what I want well, “I live no longer my own life, but the life of Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20)
And, what I’m finding is that God is not silent. When the rubber hits the road with my students and my patience is tested, it has been so helpful to go back to the day’s prayer. Bev and I have been having email exchanges about the day’s meditation, and that too has been helpful for me. We are prayer sisters, another part of the Lenten journey.
I’ve definitely experienced God’s presence during the week. I’m a slow learner in this life, but bit by bit I am absorbing this truth: that God is there with me, and that I never need to face any situation alone.