by Rev. Laura Barclay
We are entering the season of Lent, a 40-day time of reflection and spiritual growth for Christians in preparation for Easter. This sacred time has been observed in some form since the 2nd century and more uniformly since the 5th century when Pope St. Leo preached of its importance. The 40-day length of time was most likely based on the days Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting during his temptation. Throughout Catholic history, it was customary to fast or only eat small vegetarian meals during the Lenten days and have feasts every Sunday (Lent excludes Sundays, which are seen as miniature celebrations of Easter). Participating in Lent was required throughout all Christianity until the Protestant Reformation. Now, all denominations view participation during this season to be more of a voluntary event. Traditionally, Baptists did not celebrate Lent. More recently, some Baptists are trying to renew the observance of the liturgical year, realizing that cutting all ties with Catholic spirituality was a bit like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Christian reflection and spiritual growth are necessary components in one’s faith journey, and essential to absorb the meaning of the holidays and rituals our religion holds so dear.
One tradition that developed among Christians was to give up certain things they liked during this time, sacrificing a treasured routine in remembrance of Jesus, who sacrificed his life by speaking truth to power and demonstrating a new way of being in his ministry. A more recent practice has developed that has helped me in my spiritual journey—taking on a discipline like praying, meditation, volunteer work, etc. Last year, I took on wearing a cross necklace everyday for Lent. I have always struggled with the use, or rather misuse, of the cross. Instead of symbolizing the depth of love that Jesus had for humanity, it came to symbolize war and violence during the Crusades. In America, crosses became associated with terrorism and hate crimes committed by the Ku Klux Klan, efforts of some churches to exclude persons who may be different than others, and as a way to define “who’s in and who’s out” rather than the inclusive and boundless hospitality of Jesus. The 40 days I wore that cross gave me an opportunity to explore what the cross means to me, and gave me a chance to have deep and meaningful conversations with some of my friends, both Christian and non-Christian, who expressed the same reservations. The practice also forced me to slow down and reflect on Jesus’ life and ministry, which is full of meaning and instruction on human relationships toward one another and God, rather than skip to the end of the story. Rushing to Easter is something we all have the urge to do, but meditation on his life gives context and understanding to his death and resurrection.
This year, I am going to work on prayer. I have always found it hard to still the chatter and commentary on activities of the day inside my head. If you’ve seen the TV-show Scrubs, the main character’s never-ending thoughts that supplement the dialogue might give you an idea of my overactive brain. I also have a family history of high blood pressure, which silent prayer and meditation have been scientifically proven to lower. I will use www.pray-as-you-go.org, an online resource provided by Jesuit priests that CBFNC’s Executive Coordinator, Larry Hovis, used during one of our staff devotionals. It allows you to meditate on scripture, which is read several times, and think introspectively about spiritually related questions. I have found that focusing my mind on Scripture rather than trying to meditate in complete silence helps to keep my mind from wandering too far off topic.
If you want to try to add a discipline during Lent, you can try the website above or:
http://www.d365.org/todaysdevotion/ -- This resource is produced by Passport and sponsored by the Episcopal Church, Presbyterian Church U.S.A., and CBF.
http://sacredspace.ie/ -- This resource is produce by Irish Jesuits.
http://anglicansonline.org/special/lent.html -- This Anglican website has many helpful Lenten resources.
I wish you good luck in your spiritual journey toward the cross and a fruitful path of reflection.