Week Three: Three refreshing gifts of Lent
Lent is a beautiful time of renewal that is often missed. Yet, just like an unexpected afternoon free, a chance to walk quietly alone in the forest or along the beach, Lent can provide the space to lean back into the now and take a deep refreshing breath with God when we see it in the proper perspective. The two questions remain though:
Will we take this opportunity?
If we do, how should we best go about it in a simple, sincere way?
The classic Lenten approaches are by sacrifice, almsgiving, and prayer. They are beautiful guides to living this season to the full. However, in these stressful times, it is important that we revisit them in ways they can offer us spiritual refreshment and new perspectives. Otherwise, we run the danger of seeing Lent as just another thing to do in our already overburdened lives.
Freedom: When we think of fasting, it is often seen as a negative act: We are giving up what we like and sometimes even feel we need. Yet, if we reframe the sacrifice of Lent as asceticism, then we see it in a different light: Making our desires and needs smaller so we can appreciate all that is already in our life more deeply. Sacrifice, the first element of Lenten discipline, then becomes something so much more.
Once when I was sitting with spiritual writer Henri Nouwen in the kitchen of his apartment located just outside of Harvard Square, we were speaking about the importance of pruning. When you prune something properly, it blossoms more deeply—not less. The same can be said of what we “give up” or sacrifice during Lent. Hopefully, what we choose—be it something to eat or drink, or a behavior that is not serving us or others well, such a sacred blossoming will take place.
Compassion: As children we were often given a little cardboard container to provide money for the poor and vulnerable. This is a nice lesson in generosity that remains today for both young and old as parishes still often distribute little containers in which we can put our coins, allowances, or the money we would spend on extras. But, what if we also saw almsgiving from the perspective of giving of ourselves? What if we did things for others without expecting anything in return: not a “thank you,” not a smile, nothing. What a true gift that would be—not only to them but also to ourselves as we would learn one of the essences of Grace: giving and expecting nothing in return.
Spiritual Awareness: Finally, what if we changed our view of prayer during Lent. In other words, rather than simply adding a few prayers, we also sought periodic momentary periods of alone time (being in solitude or simply reflective within ourselves while in a crowd) during the day? Lent is designed to help us move from chronos (secular time and ways of viewing the world) to Chairos (embracing God’s perspective more deeply). Taking a few moments in the morning, when we are walking or driving, on the way to having a cup of coffee or answering the phone, can help us lean back, breathe deeply, and know God more deeply.
Don’t miss this Lent. Greater inner freedom, a richer sense of compassion, and a deeper sense of our relationship with God are waiting. Catholic author and physician Walker Percy in one of his novels wrote, “What if life is like a plane and you miss it?” Well, that is easy to do in today’s stressful world. And so, since Lent can help us prevent that from happening, isn’t this season a pure gift to us when we look at it, and act upon it, from that perspective?
For more reflections in our Lenten series, click here.
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Image: Illustration by Angela Cox