A different kind of Lenten discipline
Lent is a unique and sacred season of the Christian year. I've written in past years (see “Lent's Mysterious Call of Spirit“) about how moved I am by the mysteries of our faith and this time of year when we are called to reflect deeply on them.
Lent is a period of 40 weekdays, observed by believers as a penitential and devotional preparation for Holy Week and Easter Sunday’s remembrance of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is also a liturgical commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert before starting his public ministry.
This year, in collaboration with the Virginia Theological Seminary, the brothers of the Society of St. John the Evangelist (SSJE—a monastic community of the Episcopal Church and the Anglican Church of Canada) is offering a free online course called “5 Marks of Love.” Go to http://www.5marksoflove.org/ to sign up, download the workbook, and get notified of the daily short videos and reflections. The sidebar of that web page includes links to all the lessons. Here's their own description of the course:
This six-week series provides the opportunity to observe and to reflect on the ways in which the Divine Life expresses itself in and through us; individually and in our faith communities, as well as in the world around us. Each week will explore the Anglican Marks of Mission (Tell, Teach, Tend, Transform and Treasure) through videos, questions and exercises so we can speak more clearly and act truthfully, motivated always by hearts marked by God’s love.
The Marks of Love are not simply a list of tasks to be checked off one after the other; they are signs that our life is rooted and grounded in the Being of God. The Brothers of SSJE will draw on their own monastic spirituality to help us balance action with contemplation, so that our words and deeds proceed from the deepest places of our hearts, where God dwells. The resource encourages us to reflect on how we should live, not what we should do.
This series is designed for use by individuals or small groups. In small groups, facilitators will guide the growing process as participants discuss and learn together. For individuals, daily videos and reflections will lead them through a similar process. Ultimately participants will learn to offer themselves, body and soul, to God’s Mission, and to live for God’s glory.
Lent has a purpose
Our minister at Emmanuel Episcopal Church in Woodstock, VA, the Rev. Michael Cadaret, preached a moving sermon on Ash Wednesday about the importance of Lent in our the life as Christians. He suggested an alternative to the traditional Lenten mindset of repentance—the notion that we should spend more time reflecting on our sins and sorrow for our sinful ways. This mindset has led to the practice of giving things up during Lent. The problem with that, he said, is that we often pick those things right back up again after Easter and we aren't really changed.
There's a place for penitence, of course, but he asked us to consider placing ourselves at God's feet in prayer and self-examination, seeking guidance, insight, and discernment about our role in God's mission—in other words, just spending time with God. How, with God's help, can we get to the end of Lent with truly changed hearts? Who would we be if we allowed God to change our hearts so they were perfectly aligned with God's mission? What would it be like to know we were partners in that mission?
Even Jesus took time to get his marching orders
The “5 Marks of Love” teachings reminded me of something I had completely forgotten: even after Jesus Christ was baptized and told by God, “You are my beloved; with you I am well pleased,” he did not go straight to work. He went into the wilderness for 40 days and nights to better understand what God wanted him to do.
Now I don't know about you, but I have a hard time being quiet for five minutes every morning to ask God what he wants me to do that day! I can't even imagine being in the desert that long. It is a significant shifting of gears for me just to take more time every day to place myself at God's feet and just let His presence change me. But that is exactly what I am going to do this Lent, with God's help.
Won't you join me?
Whatever your spiritual tradition, there is room for taking some time to reflect, wonder, and pray. Why not during Lent?
Of course, we'll never get all the answers we want. I love the lines from Barbara Brown Taylor's book Leaving Church: “I discovered that faith did not have the least thing to do with certainty…I have learned to prize holy ignorance more than religious certainty.”
So instead of giving up chocolate or meat or smoking, let's give up something that I believe will brighten the heart of God: let's give up our preconceived notions, our prejudices, our biases, and our stubbornness.
Let's just be quiet in God's presence for longer than usual… and see what happens.
Recommended Reading for Lent: