Today, known as Ash Wednesday is the beginning of the Church’s observance of the 40-day Lenten season leading up to Easter.
I was raised in a home that had no religious underpinnings and in our own church tradition we have not routinely embraced observance of the Church calendar. For some of us, this may be true as well and observing Lent is new to you.
One thing, however, that becomes apparent even to those like me who are not fully familiar with Lent is that it seems to center around the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” That’s probably a fine question but then I wonder the reason behind it. It is interesting that Lent comes in the springtime when all things are made new, when all of creation pushes back the darkness of winter and is restored to new life. Lent centers around this same kind of rhythm, confronting the spiritual darkness that has unknowingly settled in our soul and returning to and being restored by God in a fresh way. It’s a time of self-examination, repentance and confession to those things which have imperceptibly attached themselves to our lives to be recognized, confronted and forgiven. So what we finally discover is…Lent isn’t about forfeiting as much as it’s about formation.
It is also a time for “spring cleaning.” I don’t know about you but in my house that usually means clearing out the junk that has accumulated over the past year. Telling the truth about our messy house is the essence of repentance. In the same way, we look to God to expose those places in our hearts that have become cluttered with things that would distract us from what is most needed in our life with God. That’s where the “giving up” come in where we intentionally enter in to a discipline of clearing out something that has put our soul in a state of disarray.
In this way, Lent becomes not an obligation but an opportunity to start again. It is the moment when we say yes once more to the call of Jesus to the disciples, “Come and see” (John 1:39). It is the act of beginning our spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented.
Throughout the Scriptures God uses seasons of “forty” to work in the lives of His people. To test. To renew. To grow. To direct. Forty designated a time when God engaged humanity in exceptional, memorable and life-transforming ways. Our desire is for God to do something extraordinary in our lives during this moment of forty spent in devotion to Him.
At Faith we will be offering a weekly Lenten devotional for the next 40 days to help us be intentional about pursuing God in our daily lives. Our prayer is that we experience a greater sense of the Presence of Christ in our lives as we become further formed into the image of Christ.
A Prayer for Entering Lent
“How often have I lived through these weeks without paying much attention to penance, fasting, and prayer? How often have I missed the spiritual fruits of the season without even being aware of it? But how can I ever really celebrate Easter without observing Lent? How can I rejoice fully in your Resurrection when I have avoided participating in your death?
Yes, Lord, I have to die—with you, through you, and in you—and thus become ready to recognize you when you appear to me in your Resurrection. There is so much in me that needs to die: false attachments, greed and anger, impatience and stinginess…. I see clearly now how little I have died with you, really gone your way and been faithful to it.
O Lord, make this Lenten season different from the other ones. Let me find you again. Amen.”
Nouwen, Henri (2002). A Cry for Mercy: Prayers from the Genesee. Image Books.
© Gail Johnsen 2018