Most of the time when people think about Lent they immediately think about “giving up something for Lent.” You know, you are out to dinner and someone who normally eats steak is ordering fish… “oh, it must be Lent.” Maybe you are at work and your office-mate is lamenting the fact that she hasn’t had coffee for a while…”oh, it must be Lent.”
So, why are these crazy Christians doing this? Let’s start with some basics. Lent, the period of 40 days that preceded the celebration of Easter, goes way back. In the early church (when the Romans could persecute you for being a Christian) people would go through a final period of ‘purification and enlightenment’ for the 40 days before their baptism at Easter. Typically, baptisms were only performed on Easter.
Lent today is supposed to be an opportunity for reflection, introspection, and examination focusing mostly on the ways we have turned away from God in our lives. There are three traditional tools if you will for this process during Lent, prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. Giving up something for Lent typically is taken as a form of fasting and if you donate the money you would have spent on that luxury you gave up to the church, you can also cover almsgiving. Prayer is something however that has seem to have gone missing here unless you count “dear God, let me get through another day without chocolate” as a real prayer.
So what to do with this for the season of Lent this year? Well, if you want, please go ahead and give up something (and if you are feeling generous, donate the difference to the church). A reminder, when you fast, (ie. give up something), it is between you and God. Don’t make a big deal of it. Keep it as your own personal deal with God. This is about YOU turning back to God after all.
Now we are left with just that nagging thing, prayer. In a recent discussion I was having with some of my new-found ecumenical colleagues from West Springfield, we were all commenting on how prayer has slid out of our lives, seemingly replaced by the incessant urge to keep checking our phones/email for new messages, new Facebook/Instragram/Snapchat postings. I started wearing a watch again, just so I would not look at my phone so often to check the time which always led me to looking at email, messages, etc.
Finding or rather making time for prayer is really, really important. John Wesley (the founder of Methodism) wrote eloquently on prayer:
“God’s command to “pray without ceasing” is founded on the necessity we have of his grace to preserve the life of God in the soul, which can no more subsist one moment without it, than the body can without air. Whether we think of; or speak to, God, whether we act or suffer for him, all is prayer, when we have no other object than his love, and the desire of pleasing him.
All that a Christian does, even in eating and sleeping, is prayer, when it is done in simplicity, according to the order of God, without either adding to or diminishing from it by his own choice. Prayer continues in the desire of the heart, though the understanding be employed on outward things. In souls filled with love, the desire to please God is a continual prayer. As the furious hate which the devil bears us is termed the roaring of a lion, so our vehement love may be termed crying after God.
God only requires of his adult children, that their hearts be truly purified, and that they offer him continually the wishes and vows that naturally spring from perfect love. For these desires, being the genuine fruits of love, are the most perfect prayers that can spring from it.”
Wow! “…being the genuine fruits of love…” I really didn’t used to think about praying as a love note but it really is. God loves us without ceasing and so when we pray, we are really entering into a dialog of love with God. Oh wait, my cellphone just buzzed… BRB
Seriously. Making time for a love prayer with God should be as easy as looking at your phone. Why not? Maybe for Lent you can give up something (fasting), donate more to the church (almsgiving), and pray more simply by putting a message or alarm on your phone. Set an alarm, recurring every day, you pick the time of day, with the simple message ‘send a love note to God.’ When it goes off, and you look at your phone, take that moment, that very precious moment, to give thanks to God for your life and those whom you love. That’s all. Do it. Set the alarm to recur beginning on the first day of Lent (Wednesday, February 14th also known as Ash Wednesday though Thursday, March 29th also known as Holy Thursday or you can continue through to Saturday, March 31st).
Wait, you don’t have a phone? No, well then it is equally simple. Set a time, each day, a time when you will turn towards God and send a love note to God. Go ahead and write it on your paper calendar. “Send Love note to God.” That could be an interesting discussion topic if someone reads your calendar!
Next, come join us in church this Lent as we begin our search for introspection, our review of how we have distanced ourselves from God, and most importantly, how we can find our way back.