Last week marked the opening of Lent in the Liturgical season. For six and one half weeks, Christians around the world will prepare themselves spiritually for the celebration of their highest Holy Day: Easter. Many of them will make personal sacrifices, focusing through these long days on the sacrifices Jesus made as he set his face toward Jerusalem.

I remember as a child, growing up in my Catholic family, how seriously we took this time – and how hard it was for me to make any sacrifice. My childhood was one of few extravagances, and the ones that came along were cherished. It was hard for me to understand, or accept, that for over six weeks I had to let go of something that brought me joy.

And yet, every year, I would make the decision. I would give up dessert; or TV; or snacks. While it didn’t necessarily make sense to me why I was doing this – there was at the very least a lingering sense that by depriving myself of something I could better understand the sacrifices Jesus himself made.

Now a mature adult, I still take note of what the liturgical calendar is asking me to do in this Lenten season: prepare myself spiritually for our collective celebration of life overcoming death.

My practices have evolved. It has been a while since I gave something up for Lent. Instead, I add something: more time in prayer, promises to read scripture daily, setting aside time each day to journal, reading through a book that I find spiritually uplifting, or taking extra time to make calls or visits to those in need of time with a friend.

I am grateful for the spiritual practices of my faith tradition, including this Lenten call to spiritual discipline that deepen our awareness of the sacrifices Jesus made.

I have a growing awareness of how other faith traditions have something very similar to this: whether it is the arduous month-long fast of Ramadan practiced by Muslims, the 25 hours of fasting practiced by the Jewish people during the time of Yom Kippur, or the various means of using fasting for spiritual awakening by many native American tribes. It seems almost universally accepted that an intentional and thoughtful act of self-sacrifice can not only deepen spiritual connections with the Sacred, but also make us all more mindful of the excesses with which we are prone to live and grow oblivious to.

No matter what your spiritual pathway is, or how you explore and deepen connections to your Sacred, take time to assess your spiritual health. Discover ways that the entrapments of this world burden you – whether in the ongoing and seemingly insatiable pursuit of baubles that attract, or in the simple fact that such baubles, once acquired, only serve to distract us from our higher callings.

Open yourself up to the ancient rituals that invite us to turn away from things that distract us from, or learn anew spiritual disciplines that focus us on, spiritual awakening.

During this season of Lent, may you be encouraged to lighten your load if it be overladen with excesses that distract; may you be invited into times of spiritual wholeness that come when we are less distracted; and may the Eastertide find you ready to celebrate once again the joy of life overcoming death. May you deepen your relationship with your Sacred on this, your journey Into the Mystic.