Lent is one of my favorite times of year. Maybe that sounds crazy, but I love discipline, I love religious practices, and I love times that unite our community. I’m not unilaterally opposed to giving up candy for Lent, but I encourage everyone to combine other Lenten commitments to make the time truly transformative. Some suggestions:
By making time for music, literature, and visual art, we can focus our prayer during the season. Go to a museum, browse photography online, or practice spiritual reading.
The Benedictines of Mary Queen of the Apostles have a new collection of vocal music out for Lent, a companion to their phenomenal Advent at Ephesus titled Lent at Ephesus. Their Advent album helped center my celebration of that season, and I look forward to using this newest recording in my prayer this spring.
If spiritual reading is your bent, I recommend anthologies of T.S. Eliot, Mary Oliver or Gerard Manley Hopkins. Their poems have been indispensible on my spiritual journey. If you have other suggestions please leave them in the comments!
Spend time with Scripture
Years ago I bought an English-language breviary in Rome, and though I don’t use it as often as I ought, it comes out every Lent. Every Evening Prayer fills me with psalmody and welcomes me into the prayer of the universal Church.
Many excellent prayer books structure themselves around Scripture. The Sacred Space books include a daily reading, and the 3-minute retreats include a scriptural nugget. Both of these offer reflection questions as well to guide prayer.
For years I kept a journal that was specifically a prayer journal, until I realized that most of my writing is prayer, regardless of where it is done. Since I am focusing more on my prayer life during Lent, I commit to journaling every evening to process some of the spiritual work that I am doing during the day.
I know a lot of my readers are also writers, and you might feel as I often do, that it is hard to write more at the end of a day when I have already tried to pound out 500 unrelated words. Tips or tricks for using your words at the end of the day?
This is the classic Lenten commitment, by my observation. I see the value in giving up ice cream or candy as a way to sanctify the time, but I have experienced more profound refining by challenging myself to abstain from more detrimental things.
This will be my tenth year giving up alcohol during Lent. Drinking is a significant part of my social (and culinary) life, in a healthy and moderate way. Perhaps booze plays a similar role in your life: it’s not overwhelming, but it’s ubiquitous. Taking a break is jarring in the best possible way: it is a sacrifice of something I enjoy, it is cleansing, and wrenches me from habit.
Another abstinence challenge is gossip. I have one close colleague with whom I share this challenge during Lent. I don’t always succeed in every aspect of my life, but at work I am held accountable by the person with whom I spend the most time during the day. (Confession: we have learned a way around this by occasionally “stating facts” during the day without commentary. This cheat is usually prefaced with “I have to state a fact”.)
Add in something good
Bonus points if it’s at the same time every day.
What if every morning the first thing you did, before coffee, before a shower, was to drink a glass of water? And what if you set an intention for the day during that time? What if you offered God gratitude for the day during that time?
Eat an apple every day. Pray the rosary.
If you can, make time for people during Lent. Go out for tea after mass. Call an old friend. Listen to an acquaintance or student who has a need to unload.
As people living in community, our relationships are part of what bring us closer to God. We all have relationships that don’t build us up, and we often spend so much effort trying to maintain many relationships (hello, Facebook) that we don’t deepen the most important ones. I am guilty of this.
Rather than letting solicitations pile up from the handful of charities I support every year, I am making my gifts as Lent begins. I also try to keep a few singles handy so that I can give to the panhandlers I see too often.
Generosity can be tricky. Everyone is in a different financial position and state in life. One thing I try to keep in mind is God’s abundance. God gives and gives and gives. I need to find a way to do the same thing. How does generosity fit into your life?
It would be maddening to attempt to fit everyone of these ideas into my life, but I attempt to keep most of them in my mind as I journey toward Easter. This reminds me constantly that this time is sacred, set aside for my repentant renewal. It’s a beautiful time, and I find that God works in me in new ways when I make new habits.
How will you be observing Lent this year?
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links to some of my favorite books and music. Purchases made through these links put some change in my piggy bank at no cost to you.
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