Preparing for a Contemplative Lent
The liturgical season of Lent begins next week on Ash Wednesday.
Those of us anticipating a contemplative Lent are running out of time to prepare. We have questions to answer and intentions to decide, and are running out of shopping days before Lent.
Lent is not about giving things up. It is not about chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, or social media. During Lent, we take an honest, insightful look at who we really are. Reflecting on what we hold onto and how it holds us back from becoming our truest selves. We look ourselves in the eye and recognize what we do not truly need. Lent is a season of preparation and anticipation of the new life of Easter.
A contemplative Lent is a season for remembering and saying goodbye.
Some of us believe Lent begins on Tuesday, which is a sort of Ash Wednesday Eve. We may celebrate Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday. Churches in my particular tradition think more in terms of Shrove Tuesday.
It is traditional in many churches to get together on Tuesday and eat pancakes. I have heard several explanations of the connection between pancakes and beginning Lent.
The one I find most reasonable is the evening before Lent is an opportunity to purge what we will not need from our kitchens. Apparently pancakes and bacon represent many of the foods people are giving up for Lent.
Preparing for a contemplative Lent includes taking inventory of what we do not need. Like people sharing a pancake supper, we clear away temptations.
Shrove Tuesday is the day we open our tightly gripping fingers and let go. We assert our freedom from habits and things. Recognizing what we do not need, we toss them aside.
Are We Ready for a Contemplative Lent?
Most people do not eagerly look forward to Lent. We try to put off a season of preparation and anticipation as long as we can.
It can be a challenge for us to appreciate Lent. Other liturgical seasons are full of enjoyable practices and traditions. There are no Advent calendars or Christmas cards for Lent. Many of us experience Lent as a long season during a challenging part of the year.
We think of Lent as a time to make sacrifices.
Some of us approach Lent by ignoring it as long as we can. If we do not pay attention it might just go away.
I believe our attitude and approach to Lent only makes things worse.
We do not think of Lent as a season to be celebrated, but endured or survived.
Some of us, knowing we need to give something up for Lent, try to find the easiest thing we can.
A contemplative Lent begins with our understanding of how we live into Lent.
We may want to look into the history and roots of Lent as a liturgical season. Where did this idea come from? What is Lent supposed to show us? Is there wisdom we can gain from spiritual teachers who have gone before us?
Fortunately we no longer need to find a library with a good spiritual history collection. We can begin our contemplative Lent online.
If we decide to practice giving something up for Lent this year we can approach the question contemplatively.
What are the habits and attitudes which hold us back from becoming who we are meant to be? Are there ways we can practice changing our practices or beliefs each day during Lent?
How will we begin practicing a contemplative Lent this year?
Beginning a Contemplative Lent
Lent will begin next Wednesday regardless of how prepared and ready we might be.
It is true there is nothing magical about Ash Wednesday. We can begin making serious changes in our lives on any day. Our willingness to face what holds us back is not limited to the liturgical season of Lent.
In my experience there is support in struggling together in a community. Liturgical seasons at the church I attend help us offer each other encouragement and forgiveness. While we each choose our own practices for Lent, we share a sense of being focused together.
We prepare to begin a contemplative Lent whether or not we eat pancakes on Tuesday. Some of us need to clean out what tempts us to fall back into our old patterns. Other people want to stock up on what they will need to start practicing something new.
The key question for our reflection in the next few days is where we would like Lent to take us this year.
As we reflect we listen to how spiritual life stirs within us. It is not a matter of what will be easiest for us to accomplish.
What are the serious changes we would like to make?
Sustaining a Contemplative Lent
We have a few more days to prepare ourselves for a contemplative Lent.
It takes more than eating pancakes to remove temptations from our kitchens. The contemplation which will sustain Lent for us begins before Ash Wednesday.
We take time to understand what practices we are committed to sustaining for 40 days. Lent is not about what someone else suggests we do or what other people expect.
A contemplative Lent is our opportunity to begin making serious changes in community. the ways we decide to grow during Lent each year can become how we live for years into the future.
Our contemplative Lent is about infinitely more than eating pancakes or not drinking coffee. We reflect on the obstacles which are keeping us from becoming who we really can be. With support from spiritual life and a worldwide community we begin to work our way past these stumbling blocks.
Each of us chooses how we will spend the season of Lent. Practicing a contemplative Lent is one way for it to make lasting differences within us.
Are we ready to begin a contemplative Lent today?
How will we prepare for a contemplative Lent this week?
[Image by Annie Mole]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.