Practicing a New Normal for Lent
Lent is a liturgical season which is all about embracing a new normal.
Each year we discern changes we aspire to make in our lives. Some years we choose the changes we would like to make and other years the changes choose us.
This year Lent is showing us where to find clear, practical transformation. Lent this year is presenting us with specific ways to embrace a new normal.
These are not the changes we chose to make a few weeks ago. Some of us regret deciding to give up social media or amazon.com for Lent. A few of us are continuing the disciplines we chose, even without the prospect of a celebratory Easter.
Our own individual struggles toward spiritual growth are being subsumed in a more global calling.
Many of us had ashes placed on our foreheads a few weeks ago. We probably could not imagine the sort of new normal this Lent would bring us.
Some of us thought we understood Lent, we had a good grasp on what it meant. We could not even begin to guess what this Lent would be all about.
Lent this year is bringing changes to us like waves crashing in a storm. This Lent is breaking up our ideas of normal and washing them out to sea.
When we take time to catch our breath, to pause and reflect, we begin to wonder. What is spiritual about our Lent this year?
How are the challenges of buying toilet paper and groceries even remotely spiritual? Many of us look back with longing to the immediate and physical ways we experienced spiritual life. We miss the hugging, the spiritual life in eating together, and other things we took for granted.
What is our new normal of spiritual life?
Appreciating a New Normal in Spiritual Life
Things were easier before.
The boundaries between spiritual life and everything else used to be clear. Spiritual stuff happened one day each week when we worshipped and read scriptures. We did things a certain way, in a particular place, and spiritual life fit neatly into our schedule. The rest of our week was for other stuff, like work and school and playing.
Now it seems like everything runs into everything else. It is like when the gravy on our potatoes spills over into the vegetables on our plates.
We find it harder to see and understand everything when it all runs together.
What are the differences between spiritual life and everyday life? Where are the boundaries? How do we keep everything neatly organized on our plates?
It feels more challenging to appreciate what is spiritual and what is not. We have a sense the boundaries have broken down. Our categories and certainties are being washed away.
Even when we are doing things we thought were spiritual, on the right days, we can no longer be so sure. The lines between spiritual and professional, physical and political are much less clear.
Now many of us are not able to go to places we thought were particularly spiritual. Does it mean spiritual life in us is weaker than it used to be?
It all makes me wonder whether my categories were ever real at all.
Lent this year is reminding us the ways we organized and divided our days were not normal after all.
Our carefully structured systems had more to do with us than with spiritual life. Spiritual life is about flowing together and mixing, like the flavors in our meals.
This Lent is washing away all the artificial additives of spiritual life.
Embracing Our New Normal
There are days when it seems like our new normal is not to have a normal at all.
The things we believed were the foundations of spiritual life are all called into question. This Lent is more than spring cleaning, it is stripping our lives down to the studs. We are not merely dusting and sweeping, we are laying everything bare.
This Lent has relieved us of the attitudes and behaviors to which we clung with all our strength. We no longer go to work or to school. The futures we hoped and dreamed would come true have evaporated into a mist.
Where has spiritual life brought us?
This Lent begins with staying home. We sit still and listen to sacred stillness all around us and within us. Closing our eyes we breathe deeply and become open to spiritual life.
As we embrace the new normal of spiritual life we find it embraces us. It comforts where we are most bruised or broken.
We realize what we used to think was normal is merely a step toward our new normal.
Each time we think we have found it a new normal is revealed.
Today’s New Normal
Sometimes it feels like our new normal arrives faster than the earth is turning.
We wake up to news which changes what we believed was normal. Ways of behaving which were definitely not normal before have become our new normal.
This year’s Lent is showing us how to be open to change. Most of these changes are designed to save lives, in one way or another.
Lent has traditionally been about sacrificing in the immediate to grow and change in the long run. The changes seem to be choosing us this year.
Even when we feel a new normal is being forced on us we have a choice. Some of us try to run and hide, choosing to hold onto the past, as the waves crash around us. Others of us want to study each new normal looking for ways to compromise and adapt.
Some of us see the waves of change breaking around us as opportunities to go surfing.
Spiritual life is drawing us to embrace our new normal.
How will we recognize and embrace our new normal today?
When will we take time to reflect on each new normal this week?
[Image by jurvetson]
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.