What Are We Going to Do For Lent This Year?: Spiritual Direction

What Are We Going to Do For Lent This Year?: Spiritual Direction January 31, 2023

What Are We Going to Do For Lent This Year?: Spiritual Direction

What Are We Going to Do For Lent This Year?

The liturgical season of Lent begins three weeks from tomorrow on Ash Wednesday. What are we going to do for Lent this year?

Those of us anticipating Lent do not have much time to prepare. We have questions to answer and intentions to decide, and are running out of shopping days before Lent.

Some of us think Lent is 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 need.

Lent is a season of preparation and anticipation for the new life of Easter. It 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 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 pantries. Apparently pancakes and bacon represent many of the foods people give up for Lent.

Preparing for 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.

A Good Clearing Out

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 this season. Other liturgical seasons are full of enjoyable practices and traditions. There are no calendars full of candy or greeting cards for Lent. Many of us experience it as a long season during a challenging part of the year.

We think of this season as a time to make sacrifices.

Some of us approach it 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 only makes things worse.

We do not think of it 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 it.

We may want to look into the history and roots of a liturgical season. Where did this idea come from? What is it 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 research online.

If we decide to practice giving something up 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?

How will we practice Lent this year?

Beginning a Contemplative Lent

Lent will begin on Ash Wednesday regardless of how prepared and ready we might feel.

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 a liturgical season.

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, we share a sense of being focused together.

We prepare for a contemplative Lent whether or not we eat pancakes on Shrove 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 weeks 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?

Exploring a Contemplative Lent

We have three more weeks to prepare ourselves to begin 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.

Several months ago a friend of mine, another spiritual director, and I began an online centering prayer group which meets each week. We create space in the midst of all the confusion and noise online where we can find some stillness.

We think our Zoom community can be a helpful way for people to explore this intimidating liturgical season.

It is not about trying to force anyone into anything or convince anyone. We come together online, settle into stillness, and each bring our questions and insights about spiritual practices. It is a way for us to experience being together online.

We will meet on Zoom each Wednesday from 3:00 to 4:00 PM Pacific time, beginning on Ash Wednesday, February 22. Let me know if you are interested. Bring your questions.

What are we going to do for Lent this year?

How will we prepare today for a contemplative Lent this year?

[Image by Johnragai-Moment Catcher]

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 email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.

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