Lent in a Tent

Have you ever spent Lent in a tent? As a young priest, living in England, I was exhorting the parishioners to take Lent seriously, and to be creative and cheerful in their self denial. With the radicalism of youth I said, “Do something extreme for once! Think of the desert fathers who left everything and went to live in a cave! Think of Jesus in the desert for forty days. Remember St Simeon Stylites who lived for thirty five years on top of a pillar in the Syrian desert! Go on! Do something radical and beautiful for God.

Preachers must be careful what they say for people are listening…especially little people. So Ash Wednesday came and went and then on Friday I had a phone call from a young mother of four children. “Father, I wish you hadn’t preached that homily on Sunday,” she said in a tone of slight exasperation. “Because Philip has decided to spend Lent in a tent.”

Philip was her ten year old son. A bright boy who sang in the choir and was always full of jokes and questions, Philip had been listening and taking it to heart. “What do you mean he is spending Lent in a tent?” I asked.

“He said he was going to live in the tent in the backyard all during Lent and he wasn’t coming out and I was supposed to bring him meals and books and whatever he needed. I don’t want to discourage him, but really Father, it is a bit much turning my son into a hermit!”

“OK, I’ll come around to see him.”

Later that afternoon I dropped in to see Philip. Sure enough, he was sitting happily in his tent in the backyard. This was late February and it was cold. He was bundled up in a sleeping bag wearing a woolen hat, reading a comic book with a mug of cocoa at his side. I climbed into the tent and we had a talk about Lent and came to a compromise. Philip would come out from the tent to go to school, wash and have meals with the family, but his mom said he could sleep in the tent every night if he wanted to.

So Philip spent Lent in a tent. I visited him a couple of times through the forty days and whenever he could he was ensconced in his canvas cave like a perfectly happy hermit. He read lots of books and I talked with him about prayer and I still remember it as one of the happiest Lents I ever spent.

As you prepare for Lent you may not be called to live in a tent, but learn a lesson from Philip: do something radical and beautiful for God. Do it cheerfully and with good purpose. Give more. Pray more. Sacrifice more. Your life will be better for it. Your family will be better for it. Your church will be better for it. You community will be better for it.

The whole world will be better for it.

About Fr. Dwight Longenecker
  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16418313032611579940 Niall

    It's interesting you should mention this now, Father.In the British radio soap "The Archers", the vicar Alan is planning Lent in a Tent.Unfortunately, Rev Alan is very much written as a trendy social worker in a funny collar rather than as an evangelist or a seeker after Truth and goodness, and so he is doing this to raise awareness of the plight of refugees and the poor etc. Holiness, sacrifice and penance haven't got much of a look-in. Very irritating.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/09627986880884206811 flyingvic

    I hope that young man did not grow up to a lifetime of loitering with intent…

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11153355585571358736 truthfinder

    My ISP or my anti-virus program has blocked the photo, but thank you for the idea, Father. I'm going to try to put a little more "tent" in my Lent — at least in my heart.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01936683547809649170 sekman

    I know someone who did this, it first started out as a bet with a teacher and ended up as a forty day long penance.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/02487748842744745860 StevieD

    I heard 'The Archers' episode about vicar Alan and Lent but I never expected any mention of God to be made (not disappointed -this is the BBC wait for the village mosque to be in the planning stage). I think Alan would be a good replacement for our current Vicar. He is young, trendy, socially aware, popular (except on Sunday mornings). What about it, Father? Maybe both vicars down the pub exchanging thoughts over a lager shandy.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/01038498107096197056 Edward Elkins jr.

    almost sounds like the young seminarian graduate I met in Portland . He was being a hobo and riding trains town to town living in a tent with a backpack. He said he he graduated with a 2 year degree from a seminry then got another 2 year degree and decided he didnt want to wrok a normal job and rode traines hoboing. He said he missed putting on a suit and going to church some but he like the freedom he had. Strange guy I told him the Lord mus hve something to teach him and he will come back to church when he hss learned from God wht ever it is. I dont know if he was catholic really. I just wrote a really hard blog to write about free society and the mystery of the gospel to our freedom and its authority. edwardelkins.blogspot.comPlease excuse the ruff writing . It was really hard to write about but I only have a first year college writing education. so the mechanics need a tune up.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/00277922447843163814 fried chicken strips

    I'm giving up YouTube for Lent. Seeing I spend 2 hours a day watching it. Stupid addictions.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14452381203940231150 Fr

    Ah, Rev Franks of Ambridge is so PC and with-it that he makes our English and Welsh bishops seem even more stuck in the 70's time warp they inhabit. I spent a night in a tent in chilly February once, well actually until about 10.00 p.m. It was part of a Scout leader training course. I decided it was a stupid thing to do if I didn't have to and drove the 25 miles back home to my warm bed. Made it back in time for breakfast. No one was any the wiser.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12503279549547661542 Paul H.

    Amen! I'm fired up for a good lenten sacrifice. The usual is giving up alcohol, but I think an additional, more creative sacrifice is due.Fr., do you have an opinion about whether we should keep giving up whatever we gave up on Sundays during lent?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/05089351800452435838 Amanda

    Paul,I'm obviously not Fr L, but this question was asked to Mother Angelica on her show years back, and she quipped, "well, that depends, if you gave up adultery for lent, you'd better keep that up on Sundays!"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/07932665331766567610 jedesto

    If you like cauliflower as much as I do, giving it up for Lent won't do you much good.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/17877449375576975508 Sarah – Kala

    I love this post . . . children are wonderfully literal!!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12134004611919755515 Chris Faddis

    Thank you for this Fr. I love the story. A friend of mine spent Lent in a Tent a few years back. At the time I thought it was silly, but these days I realize that it really was a great thing for him. This really helps me because I'm fasting for 40 days this Lent (only eating small meals on Sunday's) to pray for the victims in Haiti and for my own penance. I've had a hard time with going forward because of all the "no way's" I hear. I keep thinking "can I really do this?" – the words that keep coming to mind are, "do something radical for God." Then when I read that line in your post it just nailed it home for God. What have I to give God but my reliance on him. I would love your prayers.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/11596308284909217044 John

    Would happen to know what came of this young man father?