Practicing Lent as Contemplatives
I am a member of a church where one liturgical season ended and another began this week. Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the first day of the liturgical season we call Lent. how are we practicing Lent as contemplatives this year?
Lent is not a season about giving things up. It is not a liturgical second chance for people who have not followed through on their New Year’s resolutions. Lent is not primarily about chocolate, caffeine, alcohol, or social media.
We have begun a season about being honest with ourselves, with other people, with spiritual life. During Lent, we take honest, insightful looks at who we really are. Lent is about reflecting on what we hold onto which 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 time for us to prepare ourselves and anticipate the new life of Easter.
The night before Ash Wednesday was, in some ways, the Eve of Lent, the threshold of the new season. Some of us took the opportunity to get ready before we began Lent. Tuesday we started to open our tightly gripping fingers and let go. We asserted our freedom from these habits and things, lifting what we do not need and tossing it aside. Tuesday we took our first step into Lent as contemplatives.
On Wednesday we took our next step. The ashes on our foreheads reminded us we are tied to the earth. We come from the earth, and to the earth we will return. Our physical life will not last forever, and there are things beyond us.
There are things beyond our reach even though our spirits may soar. What of this finite life will live on when our bodies are no longer here?
Can We Practice Lent as Contemplatives?
Many people assume Lent is about particular actions we take or stop taking.
Some of us decide to either break free from a habit or cultivate a new habit during Lent. We may decide to stop smoking or eating red meat or drinking alcohol between Ash Wednesday and Easter.
It is easy for us to get caught up in our expectations about what we are doing. We forget why we are doing it. Some people intentionally choose to break a habit which will not be too challenging for them to break. We might focus so much attention on meeting our own expectations we miss the point of Lent.
Our Lent as contemplatives is a season about remembering who we are and who we are becoming.
The time we spend reflecting reminds us about our true selves and our deepest values. We put distractions and obstacles out of our minds to remember where we are headed. Of all the things we would like to make different, we choose one on which to concentrate.
Each action we take is a step toward practicing Lent as contemplatives.
We say goodbye to what weighs us down or holds us back. Setting aside habits and relationships, possessions and expectations, we step forward.
Each Lent is an opportunity to excavate at a new level. Some years are a step further, some years are a new beginning. It can be difficult for us to know which is which at the time.
How will we transcend our rules and expectations to remind ourselves of Lent as a contemplative practice? Can practicing Lent as contemplatives free us from feelings of guilt or stress? Will experiencing Lent as contemplatives change how we understand what Lent is about?
What needs to change in us so we can appreciate Lent as contemplatives?
How Do We Start Practicing Lent as Contemplatives?
Practicing Lent as contemplatives begins with setting aside our own assumptions and expectations.
It is easy to get caught up in what we have heard, or think we remember we heard, about what Lent should be. Some people assume certain things are appropriate as Lent disciplines and others are not. It is as if there is a list of approved practices we are supposed to follow. There is not.
The ways we practice Lent are up to each of us as individuals. Our practice is personal. Each of us can take some time and discern what our practice will be.
One year I gave up fear for Lent. Another year I gave up Netflix. There was a job I gave up for Lent.
Each of us chooses how we will practice Lent as contemplatives for ourselves. There are no rules we need to follow, no standards we need to meet.
Some people choose a practice they want to begin rather than one they would like to end.
It can also be helpful to set a time each day to remind ourselves how we are practicing Lent as contemplatives this year. It can be easy for us to lose track.
Sharing a Contemplative Practice of Lent With Other People
I feel supported when I am surrounded by other people who appreciate Lent as contemplatives.
We are not compelled to share the details of our practices even while encouraging and praying for each other. It is enough for us to know we each intend to practice.
It can be helpful, for some people, to share honestly about our practices with one other person. They need to be someone we trust to keep our confidences and trust to have our best interests at heart.
One of the most attractive and supportive aspects of practicing Lent as contemplatives is having a network. Even though I may not know all the details, I know I am part of a large network of contemplative practice.
Beginning on Wednesday, people around the world began their contemplative practice of Lent. There is never a time throughout the day when people are not practicing Lent as contemplatives.
Each of us is an encouragement and inspiration to other people who are practicing Lent as contemplatives this year.
How will we take another step in practicing Lent as contemplatives today?
What questions and insights will practicing Lent as contemplatives ignite within us this year?
[Image by judithjackson957]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual director in Southern California. He is a recovering assistant district attorney and 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.