We have now officially begun the Christian season of Lent. I know this not just because we gathered after our Shrove Tuesday pancake supper for the imposition of ashes, but also because when I was in a Taco Bell the other day there was a special meat-less menu displayed to help people follow their Lenten discipline.
Are you forgoing meat this year for Lent? What about getting rid of all the fat you have (not on your body, but in your kitchen for cooking purposes like the need to fry up some homemade doughnuts when the mood strikes you)? Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras or Fasnacht (as we knew it down in Pennsylvania Dutch country) has long been a time of both having one last hurrah and also a time when the pantry was emptied of lard, sugar, fat, and butter to prepare for fasting from those items. Today, these old practices are very rare.
You may not be giving up meat or lard as a way to deepen your spiritual life this Lent. That is fine. There are many other things you can do to help reorient your life back to a focus on God. During this season as we prepare ourselves to walk with Jesus through the events of Holy Week, with a journey to the cross and then the empty tomb, we can stretch ourselves by adding practices which teach us to pause and explore what God is guiding us to do or to understand in our lives. Some excellent examples can be found on the United Church of Christ website at http://www.ucc.org/feed-yourspirit/. These include the ancient practices of keeping set hours of prayer, like mini-worship services throughout the day, praying with the Bible, and using a prayer connected to the rhythm of your breathing known as the Jesus Prayer.
If you are looking for a simpler approach than adopting a whole new spiritual practice, then how about following a Lenten calendar that offers one idea for each day like “Make time today for the one you love and for God. Each minute is a brick in your life’s bridge, not o nly over troubled waters and loss, but to a million cherished memories,” or “Write down ten things you are thankful for. And then write down ten things more.” There is a free calendar here http://secure3.convio.net/ucc/TPP/2012LENTCalendarFINAL.pdf that is full of modern and creative activities like these for each day of Lent.
Another excellent way to take time to reflect and meditate each day is to use a daily devotional. There are many excellent examples like the These Days bi-monthly publication or the online resource from the Upper Room found here http://devotional.upperroom.org/. One that I have mentioned several times in worship and have found to be creative and challenging is the Still Speaking devotional published by a writer’s group within the UCC. You can sign up for it here: http://www.ucc.org/feed-your-spirit/daily-devotional/. Then you will receive a daily email delivered to you every day of the year keyed to the events of the church calendar.
Perhaps none of these will appeal to you. Maybe your path to a productive time of Lenten devotion lies down another path like once again saying goodbye to beloved chocolate (just in time for Girl Scout cookie deliveries). Or maybe you have your own idea of something you can change in your life to renew a sense of connection with God. It doesn’t have to be arduous or austere. Something simple can mean a lot. Even something as basic as renewing the practice of pausing to pray out loud at supper time to give thanks for the meal you are about to receive can bring you one step closer to a feeling of God’s presence in your life.
The most important thing is that you do something. Give something up or take something new on. Whatever speaks to you as a way of making room for God in your life, then that is the path you should explore. I hope that whatever you choose, you have a meaningful Lenten journey.