Keeping Lent In Its Place

swimmerI have a confession. Given this is the season of Lent with its emphasis on intentional self examination and repentance, I suspect this is a good thing.

Not being raised or familiar with the seasons of the Church growing up, and having been saved in the protestant tradition, the liturgical invitation into Lent was, like a sprinter verses a long distance swimmer, discovering a new way of breathing. With the rich practices this season offers, it felt good to be invited into the rhythms that keep us spiritually centered. I’ve participated in Lent for several years now have experienced how life-giving these rhythms are; to face myself honestly and come to grips with own compulsions, obsessions and attachments; to abstain from the ways I normally distract myself from the reality of my days; and to discover a path for returning to God no matter how off course I have wandered…are in themselves a means of grace in my life. These practices have engaged my heart and body in ways our intellectual faith never could. This kind of engagement always became the seeds of authentic spiritual transformation in my life.

The question that most surrounds Lent is, “What are you giving up for Lent?” I think this is a very good question given the distracted lives we live. It’s a way of clearing out the spiritual clutter that has settled in our soul over the course of a year. If not for Lent we might continue charging on with never a pause to consider the condition of our souls. For that I am grateful.

So here’s my confession. We are 14 days into the 40 day journey into Lent, and I haven’t chosen something to give up. It’s not that I don’t feel the importance of removing those things that have unwittingly blocked or blurred my sins that keep me from experiencing God in a deeper way. Although fasting is a premier discipline of the soul, this year it feels forced.

If I have learned anything, however, it is when even those things that are meant to bring life become ritual for ritual sake, it’s time to re-examine them. Any ritual, discipline, practice, or whatever – that does not ultimately lead us to a deeper connection with the Spirit of Christ who lives in us, soon morphs into empty religiosity. If we do it because that’s “what you do” and they are disconnected from what God is doing, we run the risk of it merely being a form of deadening legalism.

So I decided to press in and see what God was up to.  I sense most is that I want to “put on” something more than I want to give up something. What I really want to do is put on Christ. More than focusing on a self-preoccupation I want to actually experience Christ as a present reality in this moment. More than have lofty ideas of what my spiritual life should look like, I want to receive with abandon the life Jesus is bringing me. If that means being attentive to those things that might be distracting or blocking my awareness of his presence, then I should give needed attention to those things. If, however, it simply means leaning into my longing…I should do that.

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5 Responses to Keeping Lent In Its Place

  1. Becky Nylander says:

    Gail – I really like what you say and how you write from such unique perspectives. I like your focus of “putting on Christ.” Great message!

  2. Shari says:

    Thank you Gail for your candid words- disarming and real. Oh I just love you. I love your line “leaning into my longing”- I’m wanting to pay attention to the “cravings” I experience and see if I can use them to redirect to what does my soul really crave. So easy to self-soothe with a number of things in life. I appreciate you!

  3. erikacruger says:

    Yes. This was for me. Thank you. I miss meeting with you. But this was a small piece of it. Love you!

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