If there is a time to feast and party then there must also be a time to reflect, repent and realign our lives. Now before you scroll to the next story, WAIT! This is actually good news for us, and it is exactly the times of focussed prayer, gentle introspection and self denial that not only set us up to flourish as spring hits our shores, but also gives purpose to the times of celebration, festival and feasting.
All ancient cultures recognise the importance of rhythm in life; adjusting the rhythm of their human experience to mirror the natural order of things. The ancient Christian church also sought to follow this pattern, infusing and enriching nature’s cycle with fresh, deeper meaning. They observed that a hard winter sets the scene for a glorious summer and the autumnal stripping away of leaves on the trees makes way for the new growth of spring.
Herein lieth the rub. The rhythm of the seasons that is coupled with the stripping away of the excess baggage of summer are compulsory for the rest of creation. Trees are forcibly pruned by the wind. The ground is sodden with rain without ever being asked about its thoughts on the matter. Only human beings have that level of free will that, should they choose, enables them to disregard the natural rhythm of life and live as though they were in some way separate. Every year, humanity is drawn further away from such natural cycles and every year the internal psychological pressure on us increases, along with the spiritual dislocation that is inevitable when we live in such a way. What has this to do with me this Lent season, I hear you ask?
During Lent, Christians (and many others) use their free will in order to observe what may be seen as a ‘wintering’ period before the great celebration of new life that is Easter. We set aside extra time to pray and meditate, perhaps take a mini-retreat or serve the community in some exceptional way. Always in the mix is self–denial. Self denial is simply the joyful recognition that although I may be able to afford to live like a king, for my spiritual growth (and physical well-being) I choose to give up some of life’s luxuries and lash the otherwise overweening flesh to the discipline of the Spirit. Perhaps I abstain from alcohol or from rich foods. Perhaps I take a day each week to fast, cleaning out not only the toxins of body, but also of mind and heart. Perhaps I go barefoot for the season (my personal favourite) as an act of solidarity with the poor. Maybe I volunteer at a night shelter, or give the money I save on rich foods to the local food bank.
All these things have a purpose, and that purpose is spiritual growth. Without self-denial, all spiritual development will stall at a certain level – perhaps this is why we in the developed world are producing so few saints compared with the developing world? Self-denial also invariable involves turning the spotlight of conscience deep into our own souls to seek forgiveness and healing for times I have hurt others, acted selfishly or harboured grudges. Maybe Lent for you will mean relationships restored, new direction realised, or the opportunity to totally de-clutter your life from all the extraneous physical and spiritual baggage we accumulate simply by living.
This Lent, I use my free will to joyfully choose to subdue my own selfish desires and physical cravings for the sake of attaining spiritual altitude. I do it joyfully with a hugely expectant heart that in so doing I will become more awake to the Kingdom of God and more aware of the Kingdom of Heaven!
JOIN ME this Lent! Between Wednesday March 1st – Thursday April 13th, set yourself for a transformational adventure. Maybe you keep a blog of your journey. Maybe you partner with another spiritually minded person to help keep you on the wagon. Whatever you do, let me know, and we can celebrate together when spring is here!
Here’s some ideas for Lent. Pick whatever you think is going to help you, and add to the list – it’s your journey!
- Give up chocolate.
- Do a 24 Hour Fast (drinking only water) on one day each week, starting after your evening meal and continuing until the same time the next day.
- Forego rich and fancy foods for a month, living on nutritious, basic foods. Give the money you save to a local charity.
- Stop watching the news or reading the newspaper.
- Set your alarm to remind you every half hour to close your eyes and spend the space of three deep breaths in being grateful for all that is in your life.
- Go to a place of worship (or go more regularly!)
- Drink only water for the duration.
- Go to bed early – it may totally transform your life!
- Get up an hour earlier to pray, meditate, ponder the Scriptures or just sit quietly.
- Do the dishes (without being asked, kids!)
- Learn to chant.
- Set apart some time to evaluate your goals, values and direction in life. Are they taking you to a place you want to be or do you need to make a course-correction?
- Give up shoes and socks and go barefoot!
- Write a list of one thing each day that you are thankful for. Alternatively, take a photo of it/them and post on Facebook saying why you are grateful.
- Halve your walking speed. You will be amazed at the things you see and astounded at how it helps you to reconnect with your spiritual core.
- Every day, get rid of 5 things you don’t use. (Sell them, trash them or give them to a charity shop).
- Shave your head!
- Do one thing only! Give up multi-tasking. When you drink tea, just drink tea. When you eat lunch, just eat lunch – no TV dinners. Eliminate ‘background’ noise.
- Walk instead of driving.
- Take a lonely person to lunch each week.
- Quit computer games and game apps.
- Give up TV for Lent.
- Don’t eat the last bite of your food.
- Read that spiritual book you’ve been wanting to read for so long.
- Spend a day at a monastery.
- Buy only things you absolutely need. You really CAN do without and waiting is a good discipline!
- Go for a long, slow walk every week. Go by yourself and let the solitude renew your spirit.
- Give up Social Media for the duration.
- Go vegetarian or vegan for the month.
- Stop eating out for Lent and give the extra money to the poor.
I’m sure you can add many more things to this list, but the secret is to make it something that will cost you something (in times of money, enjoyment or time). You are going to be amazed at all the wonderful new things you discover during this period and will approach Easter spiritually renewed and re-energised!
P.S. Don’t forget that the day before Lent is Shrove Tuesday and is your last opportunity to indulge. It’s not called Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday) for nothing!