For the next six weeks, most Christians in America will take their annual journey through Lent, a season in which we search for obstacles that impede us from fully experiencing a deeper relationship with the sacred.
I remember growing up in my strict Catholic household. For me, Lent was a season of sacrificing something that made it hard to endure what seemed to me like a very long time. I would give up snacks, or desserts, or candy, or TV – something that, as a child, seemed very precious to me. I don’t know that I understood much about sacrifice as a spiritual discipline; for me it just seemed like an endurance test that made my days harder to endure. I satisfied myself with thinking that I was earning good points with God for doing this. There wasn’t much of anything spiritual in it for me at all.
As I grew and matured, Lent began to take on a different meaning for me. I started to use it as a time of deep reflection. I would spend more time in prayer. I would fast. I would journal. I would think deeply on the obstacles and distractions that distanced me from contact with the sacred and with ones I loved. In some strange way, it became a time I looked forward to rather than dreaded; less an endurance test than a time of focused healing and reconciliation.
In more recent years, since taking positions in the wider church for the last 14 years, my attention to the liturgical rhythms of the year has diminished. It takes a good deal of discipline to focus on Lent as a season of renewal. Without the responsibility of a local church pastor who must design worship week in and week out for a gathered congregation, I often lose sight of significant liturgical markers.
I find myself asking what will I make of this opportunity now? Because the Church of which I am a part continues to value this sacred time of contemplation, renewal, and self-examination, I need to ask myself what commitments am I willing and able to make to engage with my sacred and deepen my relationship with her. There is no question that, given my schedule and the pace at which I move through a day – my spirit is in need of such a commitment.
My denomination has published a Lenten devotional. It is entitled Diving Deep, and consists of daily reflections on a scripture passage. My commitment is to find time each day to read that, taking time to pause and contemplate, and then to journal my thoughts and reflections.
I mention that both to signal to myself that Lent matters to me; and to perhaps encourage you, gentle listener, to make some similar commitment. The truth is we can all move pretty quickly. Demands of the job and the family and the house and the hobby and the friends can leave little time for the sacred in our midst. What can you commit to during this season of Lent that marks it as a time for deepening your relationship with your Creator?
I miss the days of my seminary training when times for prayers, for retreat, for contemplation were built into my calendar. Others set those priorities for me; it was not up to me to attend or participate. My only choice was to use it or not for my own spiritual well-being.
I miss the days in the local church when the liturgical calendar pointed me to various spiritual outposts every year.
Now that I am loosed from the obligations set by others, as I am sure most of us are, it is I alone who must establish the disciplines that matter if I am to cultivate a deeper relationship with my sacred. Lent is as good a time as any to renew that commitment. I invite you to join me and others on this pathway, and carve out time each day to grow closer to the divine presence within and among us. And may that sacred time take us deeper still Into the Mystic.