Lent is the penitential season where Christians imitate Christ’s suffering and temptation in the desert by fasting for forty days leading up to Easter. In the Western tradition, one does not fast on Sundays, in remembrance and celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Fridays, on the other hand, are a time for intensified fasting, in remembrance and lament for Christ’s death. Below is a simple spiritual practice which can be used during Lent. It includes practices for the inner person and the outer person.
During Lent it is customary to give up the simple pleasures of life, this is the work of the outer person. Below is a list of such things which you might choose to give up. You do not need to do them all, they are only there to give you some ideas to start with. Choose to give up things which make sense for you. If you never drink alcohol anyway, then giving up beer for Lent doesn’t really count. Choose to let go of those things which you struggle to use in moderation, which you have an unbalanced relationship with.
The purpose is not to torture yourself but rather to practice the art of letting go of attachments. So be compassionate with yourself and do not exceed the limits of safety or kindness, but neither go too far in the other direction by refusing to give up anything at all. Do not be afraid to push yourself a little more than you are comfortable with, since our old habits always feel comfortable and that makes new habits hard to reach. Ask yourself some difficult questions like: is coffee really a necessity?
Things to give up
- Snacks between meals
- Drinks other than water
- Social Media
On Fridays intensify your fast a little. Maybe skip an entire meal or only have water that day. As you feel the pains of hunger, remember Christ’s passion on the cross and allow your body to participate in the remembrance of his death. Transform the hunger of your stomach into a hunger for righteousness and you will be filled.
On Sundays do not fast at all but rather have a feast. Make a large meal and invite others to join you. Celebrate the resurrection of our Lord by means of generous hospitality and joyful song. This weekly respite from your fast will help to rejuvenate your soul so that you do not succumb to weariness in the desert.
By following this rhythm we embody the Easter narrative and partake in its mystery with our entire being. The gospel of Christ is not a disembodied set of doctrines but a way of life. The two largest liturgical seasons of the Christian calendar – Lent and Advent – are both about incarnation. The embodiment of birth and the embodiment of death. Therefore, the true and proper worship of the outer person is a living and embodied sacrifice to God. This embodied worship is the first step in the renewal of the inner person and it helps us to grow in discernment.
There are six meditation questions below, one for each Friday in Lent, and they are the work of the inner person. These questions invite you to meditate on your past, present, and future. Spend some time journaling about each question. Intersperse your time of reflection with prayers that come from your heart. Let the reflection questions be a mirror in which you see the face of your inner person staring back at you.
Do not be timid or reserved in your reflection but rather write with courage and vulnerability. Pour yourself into your writing and give voice to what is inside you. After this time of reflection, turn to prayer and ask God to speak to your condition, which has been revealed to you during your meditation. Pray out loud with your words that God might give you the gift of tears, as tears wash away sorrow and sin. The streams from your eyes carry forth God’s goodness from the wellspring of life within your heart. They are a blessing and a medicine.
On Good Friday, take the pages where you have reflected on these questions and bury them in the soil. Just as Christ suffered and died on Good Friday, being laid to rest in the earth, so do you die symbolically as you bury this image of yourself which you have created on paper. Have faith that, just like Christ, you will be resurrected into new life on the third day. The image of yourself which you bury in the earth will be transformed into the image of Christ, from one degree of glory to another.
Friday Reflection Questions
- What traumas from my past are carried within me?
- In what ways have I harmed others?
- In what ways am I grateful for my life today?
- How is my life today affected by thoughts about the past and future?
- Am I prepared for my inevitable death?
- What will the world look like for the generations to come?
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