My formative experiences of keeping Lent were not particularly inspiring. My grandmother always made a big deal of giving up sugar in her tea during Lent. My mother would say “Why doesn’t she give it up permanently?” Of course, there is nothing wrong with Lent disciplines so long as they are viewed positively! It is undoubtedly good for us in a western consumerist society to “do without” for a change. Whether it is sugar, chocolate, alcohol, desserts, nuts, or meat, or binge watching of TV, addiction to the internet, or Facebook, giving up these tastes or activities for a season probably will not do us any harm and may well modify behaviors or prove our lack of dependence on them. But, whatever we gain by particular Lent disciplines the ultimate aim of any spiritual discipline is to remind us of why we are undertaking the discipline in the first place and that is to draw us closer to God. Disciplines of self-denial are helpful to many so long as they are treated as personal disciplines and not as weapons of piety! That is what the Matthew 6 portion of the Sermon on the Mount set for Ash Wednesday is all about. Keep your disciplines to yourself! Don’t use them to show others how pious you are. So, Jesus says about our charitable giving “Don’t let your right hand know what your left hand it doing;” and about praying “go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret”; and about fasting “do not look dismal” but “put oil on your head and wash your face”. But there is another whole way of regarding Lent disciplines and that is rather than “giving up something” for Lent, in fact “doing something extra” during Lent. For example, you might decide to make time available to contact family or friends you have not seen or talked to for some time. Or you might volunteer for the Soup Kitchen or some other organization convenient to you. Or you might decide to read morning prayer each day during Lent, or Compline at night from the Book of Common Prayer (or eCP from on your Smart phone). Or you might be intentional about some Lent reading (I love a good biography) or seeing a movie (at present I would heartily recommend “Lion” and “Moonlight” – both wonderfully human movies). But whatever you do or don’t do during Lent remember the rationale of Lent is to focus us afresh on God’s great love for us as shown in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Ultimately Lent is a preparation for Holy Week and Easter. George Herbert wrote “Welcome dear feast of Lent”. To that I say “Amen”.
Lenten Spiritual Disciplines
Bishop Andrew St. John
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