I am a novice when it comes to Lent, as this is only my second year observing it. To be honest, I think I first encountered Lent through the film, Chocolat. I don’t remember it being talked about much in my church. I knew it as a time to temporarily give up on “indulgent pleasures” (generally food or drink) as a spiritual discipline. This past week, I saw various suggestions on how to observe Lent. Some are subtracting distractions and excess from their lives while others are adding intentional practices. Some are fasting from social media while others are using social media to practice standing for the oppressed.
How should we practice Lent? Are we saying yes or no or perhaps a bit of both?
I decided to look deeper this year and try to find answers to some of my questions. Just as there is a journey during Advent to the birth, there is a journey during Lent to the cross. I’m beginning to see there is sacred space we miss when we jump straight into celebrating Christmas and Easter.
“For dust you are and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). This is a humbling, solemn reminder. And this is how the Lenten season begins with burnt palm ashes drawn cruciform on foreheads. Ash Wednesday is “a day to freely come before God and declare, ‘I am human, I am dust, and you still love me'” (Source).
It seems Lent is often reduced to the question, “What are you giving up for Lent?” But the more I read, the more I realized how oversimplistic that is. I came across three traditional practices to lent: fasting, prayer and almsgiving. Moreover, underneath these components are things like lament, self-examination, repentance, worship, hospitality and service. It is fascinating how Lent is more nuanced than I previously imagined.
More than self-denial and temporary change, I kept seeing that Lent is about transformation. There’s a journey involved with a goal of permanence. I listened to a message by Rikk Watts and he asked: “We can fast from things like chocolate and coffee, but what if we tried fasting from being the center?” Of course, this is supposed to be a lifelong faith practice — dying to ourselves, but Lent offers us an opportunity to remember this.
So if my desire is to be transformed, I will need to say both yes and no. What will I give up and what will I add? I found a couple questions helpful for me to ask myself: Am I moving toward or away from God? What habits are separating me from God?
I came across a quote that sums it up and helped me rope in my thoughts yesterday. AJ Sherrill says: “Contrary to popular opinion — Lent is a season of saying yes. And we do that by simply saying no to lesser loves.”
I know I am still only at the surface of meaning for Lent — there is so much to delve into. It is overwhelming, but for now I will focus on trying to incorporate these principles into my spiritual practices.
Here are a few Lenten Resources and Creative Practices I came across:
1. Lent – Not Denial but Transformation I love these questions: “What is one place of brokeness you long to see transformed? What practices could you adopt during Lent to see that transformation occur and experience the freedom of following God in new ways?”
2. What are we called to die to? from Lynne Hybels. “God doesn’t call us to die to the self that God created us to be.”
3. The Lent Project from Biola University. Reflections, scripture, music, poetry and visual art shared daily together.
4. Lenten Practices & Spiritual Disciplines This church has created a helpful booklet filled with wonderful ideas and questions for reflection.
5. Simple Communal Lent Journey Mandy Smith shares an exercise using words and phrases from lectionary readings.
6. Lenten Calendar Colouring Templates Some more visual interactive ways to document Lent.
7. Lent and the Transforming Power of Stillness from The Nomad Podcast. Brian Draper discusses making space for stillness. If you’re familiar with the concept of mindfulness, you will enjoy this.
8. Dust We Are A Lent themed Spotify playlist to listen and reflect.