Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent: A Season Set Apart

The season of Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday.

It's an important time . . . and opportunity. For as Joan Chittister reminds us:

Lent is a call to weep for what we could have been and are not. Lent is the grace to grieve for what we should have done and did not. Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to change but have not. Lent is not about penance. Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now. Lent is a summons to live anew.

Lent, then, is all about transformation . . . all about our taking the time and making the effort to open our lives to the Divine Presence within and around us; a presence that alone can inspire and facilitate the renewal and transformation we hunger for.

In preparing for this year's Lenten journey I've began reading Mary DeTurris Poust's Not by Bread Alone: Daily Reflections for Lent 2016. Two passages particularly stand out for me. The first is from Mary's reflection on Ash Wednesday.

Every Ash Wednesday I head to church with a heart and head full of spiritual dreams and goals. This will be the year I do Lent right. This will be the season I finally get my spiritual act together once and for all. Even as I revel in that hopefulness, I know there's a very good chance I will not live up to my grand plans, that I will fail, maybe even before the first week of Lent is out. How many times have I pulled that same old spiritual bait and switch with God? Sometimes I wonder how I can be so hopeful every Ash Wednesday when I know myself too well.

And yet that is the beautiful paradox of Ash Wednesday: Hope in the most unlikely places. Today's focus on our mortality, that we are dust and to dust we shall return, is beautifully balanced by the promise of resurrection that we know awaits us in the aftermath of Calvary. We will not be forgotten or abandoned.

Our God is "gracious and merciful," we hear in today's first reading, "slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment." Later, in the Gospel of Matthew, we are told [that God, like a loving parent] "knows what you need before you ask" (Matt 6:8). And so we begin our Lenten season, wary of our own weakness but buoyed by the strength of God's love. Nothing we do can cut us off from that love. No wonder it's so easy to hope.

The second passage I resonate with is from the introduction of Not by Bread Alone.

[B]reathe deep and just begin. Stake out a daily dwelling place in the heart of Scripture, where you will find guideposts and markers, examples and inspiration to help move you through this season. When you miss a step or lose sight of your plans for fasting, almsgiving, and service, find a quiet spot to refocus your mind and reconnect with the whisper of the Spirit. Away from the chaos and noise of the outside world, you'll be better able to soak up the spiritual nourishment you need to sustain you.

Transformation doesn't come in an instant or all at once. It comes bit by bit and with daily effort. We are blessed to have this season set apart, a time to break from our routine and immerse ourselves in the story of our salvation. Although at Lent we tend to focus on what we are doing for God and for others, the greatest blessing of this season is what God is doing for us.

I invite my readers to consider how they're planning to break from their routine this Lent so as to set apart time and space to reconnect with the Divine Presence and focus on the ways in which this Presence is calling them to transformation.

For myself, this break from routine means reducing the amount of time I spend online. As a result, I'll be blogging less, perhaps posting just once or twice a week throughout Lent.

I'll also be breaking from my routine by mindfully creating time and space to meditate and reflect on the Sacred Presence within and around me. Resources for this journey of re-connection with the Divine will include the prayer altar in the meditation room of my house, the Seven Principles for Living with Deep Intention, and three books – the aforementioned Not by Bread Alone by Mary DeTurris Poust, Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness by Nan Merrill, and Prayers to An Evolutionary God by William Cleary.

I'll also be participating in a book study group, the focus of which will be Thomas Rausch's Who is Jesus? – An Introduction to Christology, and attending the weekly silent meditation sessions at Wisdom Ways Center for Spirituality.

Finally, I'll be renewing my commitment to exercise more. The above resources and practices are all aimed at strengthening and developing my spiritual core. I want to balance them with exercises and practices that strengthen and develop my physical core. Some resources I'll be utilizing include Rodney Yee's yoga guide, Moving Toward Balance, and the core workout videos of health and fitness coach Oliver Wells.

My friends, whatever goals, practices, and resources you employ in your participation in Lent, may this Lenten season be a blessed time of renewal and transformation for you.

Related Off-site Links:
Ash Wednesday: Queer Martyrs Rise from the Ashes – Kittredge Cherry (Jesus in Love Blog, February 10, 2016).
It's Ash Wednesday: Time to Indulge in God's Mercy – Francis DeBernardo (Bondings 2.0, February 10, 2016).

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
Ash Wednesday Reflections
Now Is the Acceptable Time
The Lenten Journey
Lent: "A Summons to Live Anew"
"Here I Am!" – The Lenten Response
Lent: A Time to Fast and Feast
Lent with Henri
Waking Dagobert
The Ashes of Our Martyrs

Photography: Michael J. Bayly.

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