Traditionally, the season of Lent has been a time of self examination. Through a period of looking inward the intention is to identify one’s sins and go through a process of repentance and renewal. And so some Christians fast during Lent while others “give up” something that they are particularly fond of like sweets, coffee, red meat, chocolate or other indulgences.
In recent years however, there has been less emphasis around “giving up” during Lent and more emphasis around “taking on” such things as going to church regularly, serving others and becoming more disciplined in prayer, meditation and the reading of scripture. If “taking on” is your current Lenten practice, let me offer a few more foci you might consider including this year.
First, be attentive or as the Buddhists would say “be mindful”. What this means is to be aware of all of life as it is unfolding around and within you. For example, hear the silence of the snow, feel the warmth of the sun, pay attention to your breath and to what is happening in every moment. When you do this with intention it is amazing how the gift of life can transform you.
Second, learn to let go. This can be done by starting to simplify your life. Simplify your possessions, your thoughts, your desires, your expectations. When you can let go, it leaves your arms and your heart open and ready to receive all the good things that God is longing to give you.
Third, work to develop an intimacy with God. One way to do this is to find a phrase or mantra that you can filter through your heart and mind through the day (ie: “thank you God”) and say it often. Say it when you are standing in line at the grocery store, eating your lunch, scraping ice off your car windows, or washing up the dishes. Let it settle deep in your heart so that it can work from within to bring you closer to God.
And finally, pay attention to the needs of others. With the escalation of COVID-19 people around you may be feeling anxious and vulnerable. By mirroring the compassionate and loving presence of Christ in all that we say and do, we can limit the fear, discrimination and isolation that others may be experiencing. By promoting and using good preventative measures we can also limit the spread of illness as we journey together and continue to care for one another.
For the season of Lent to be an effective time of self examination, it doesn’t have to be a time of guilt, shame, self denial and fear. Instead it can be an opportunity to fill our lives with wholesome practices which will open us to that place where the suffering of the world, the hunger of our souls and the heart of God meet.