An Invitation to a Holy Lent

Well friends, Lent is a-comin’.

February 18th, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of this 40 day (plus a few Sundays) penitential season in our church where we remember Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness before celebrating his resurrection at Easter. This time in our church is meant to be set apart. It is meant to be different.

In the Ash Wednesday service we we are invited to observe a Holy Lent with the following words:

Dear People of God: The first Christians observed with great
devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and
it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a                                                                   season of penitence and fasting. This season of Lent provided
a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy
Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of
notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful
were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to
the fellowship of the Church. Thereby, the whole congregation
was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set
forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all
Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word. And, to make a right beginning
of repentance, and as a mark of our mortal nature, let us now
kneel before the Lord, our maker and redeemer.  – Book of Common Prayer

It’s pretty heavy, right? Being this serious always makes me a little uncomfortable. I am, after all, the priest that started a church in hopes that the community would be informal and joyful. So entering a period of “fasting and self-denial” seems a little severe.

But in church the last couple of weeks I’ve been talking (perhaps incessantly) about this season and about how important it is. Hence this blog post. At Church of the Beloved we try to make a point of being flexible and laid back. We try to really understand that people have a whole lot going on on their lives, and we don’t want them to come to church motivated by any feelings of guilt or obligation. We want people to come for the community, and the love, and the transformation. In an effort to be flexible we do things like change the time of our service on Superbowl Sunday when the Pats are playing.

That said, while we are flexible about many things, I want us to be very serious about spiritual growth and our relationship with God.  And for this reason I’m something of a Lent junkie. I love giving up something for Lent and examining what happens in the absence – in the wilderness, if you will. This practice allows me to make space for God and I always find that I experience self-discovery and a closer relationship to God when I make a Lenten vow.

So I’ve invited my congregation to join me in taking on a Lenten discipline. Perhaps you will add a practice that brings you closer to God – 5 minutes (or more!) of meditation every day, for example. Or perhaps you will eliminate something that takes you away from God like, say, Facebook. (And yes I’m showing my cards here – if I had more meditation and less Facebook in my life I’d be a totally changed woman!)  My hope is that my congregation (and you, if you are reading this and not a member of my congregation) will take a few days leading up to Lent to really examine what practices in your current life bring you closer to or further away from God. And decide on your Lenten discipline intentionally. Lent is not an opportunity for a divinely sanctioned diet! But if eating sugar is a problem for you – even an addiction – then by all means give it up as your discipline. See what happens without it.

I’m going to leave you with a Ted Talk to watch that has nothing at all to do with Lent, but has everything to do with Lent. Brené Brown is a researcher who has studied what qualities open-hearted people have. Pay close attention to what she says about vulnerability, and about how we as a culture numb ourselves to feelings. Because that’s what I’m hoping we can examine during this Holy Lent. I hope we can figure out where we might be numbing out, and accept God’s invitation to live with hearts wide open.

So friends, join me in observing a Holy Lent. I look forward to hearing about your time in the wilderness!

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