On Ash Wednesday we began the forty- day season (excluding the Sundays) Lent. Most of us associate Lent with not eating meat on Fridays and the practice of “giving something up” like unhealthy foods or a bad habit. While these might be steps that connect us closer to God, they often become ends to themselves and are “shoulds” in our life instead of ways we can grow in our faith.
Lent is a time that redirects our sights, not to ourselves and the guilt we feel about our shortcomings, but instead to God, the one who creates us and calls us to bring our broken selves for healing and wholeness. Easter is when we celebrate our wholeness in Jesus Christ through baptism. The 40 day journey to the cross, fount and empty tomb is one we use to intentionally create the space for that healing process to begin.
Instead of giving up ice cream (which for most of is more of a desperate attempt to lose the holiday weight, than a spiritual practice) I invite you to read over these 40 Lenten Spiritual Practices that are designed to encourage us to draw closer in our relationship with God, both as individuals and as communities wherever and whenever we might gather.
I pray these suggestions do not become a “laundry list” of to-do items. The goal is not to “check” them off as the days in Lent pass by hoping we might then become more religious. They are an invitation to broaden, deepen and open our awareness to God’s presence in our everyday lives.
Perhaps you will choose one practice to engage in each day over the season of Lent. Or you might find it helpful to change the practice each day. Regardless of what appeals to you most, join God in this time of growth and renewal of who God creates us to be.
Day One: Ask for help. Lent begins when we recognize that we can’t do everything ourselves and we depend on God’s grace for our lives. Experience God’s grace by asking for and receiving help for something we can’t do on our own.
Day Two: Follow “Journey to the Cross” www.d365.org an online special devotional for Lent/Easter. Journey to the Cross features specially composed music, daily scripture readings and brief reflections.
Day Three: “Be still and know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10) Turn off the TV, computer, phone and rest in the stillness. Even if it is just for 5 minutes.
Day Four: Prayer walk in your neighborhood (where you live or work). Simply walk around and pray for what you see, hear, touch, and smell.
Day Five: Prepare and cook a “simple meal” of rice and beans for lunch or dinner. Give the money you save in preparing this meal to an organization that feeds the hungry. Pray before the meal and be reflective about those for whom this is their only meal.
Day Six: Start seedlings. Plant seeds in small jars and place them in the light. May they be physical reminders that we partner with God in creation.
Day Seven: Open your awareness to those things that are destructive in the world—sources of injustice and oppression that result in destructive behaviors that hurt individuals, communities, and creation.
Day Eight: Practice the Daily Examen. One of the long-established spiritual practices in Christianity, championed by Ignatius of Loyola (a Spanish reformer and contemporary of John Calvin, who sought to reform the Roman church from within), is a discipline of self-examination and repentance Ignatius called examen. For more information: http://norprov.org/spirituality/ignatianprayer.htm
Day Nine: Make a joyful noise to the Lord. Make music by singing a song you have memorized or put on a CD and sing along. Let your voice praise God.
Day Ten: Journey with Jesus. Read Matthew, Mark, Luke or John from beginning to end during Lent and journey with him from the manger to the empty grave.
Day Eleven: Circle of gratitude. Before meals invite everyone around the table to share one thing they are grateful for that day
Day Twelve: Call or visit someone who is lonely. This might include an elderly shut in, stay at home parent, someone who has recently lost their job or a grieving widow.
Day Thirteen: At the end of the day ask yourself “Where did I see God today?” Make a list.
Day Fourteen: Caring for others as ourselves take acts of truth-telling and confrontation. Abstain from laughing at jokes or comments that are hurtful to others. Share with that person your commitment to caring for God’s children.
Day Fifteen: Keep a prayer journal (can be on the computer or in a paper notebook). Include prayers of joy, concern, and questions. Write down the prayers offered to God for yourself and for others.
Day Sixteen: Remember your baptism. Place a bowl of water in a visible place in your house. Touch the water and remember that we are linked to Christ and the Christian community through the waters of
Day Seventeen: Write a letter to God
Day Eighteen: When attending worship or other gatherings of your faith community pay attention to how the music, liturgy, conversation, and fellowship time affect you. Be open to how God speaks to you through community.
Day Nineteen: Prayer on the move. When in the car be intentional about turning the radio off and not talking on the cell phone. When you are alone in the car, use that quiet time to be in prayer.
Day Twenty: Jesus didn’t “convert” Christians, he formed disciples and sent them out to continue the formation process. Reflect on ways you have been shaped by the teachings of Jesus and shared them with others.
Day Twenty-one: Find a psalm or a hymn text that is meaningful to you. Write the words out and study them. Choose a different portion of the text for each week of Lent and memorize it.
Day Twenty-two: If you consider yourself a spiritual “dropout” reach out to someone you trust and talk about your feelings.
Day Twenty-three: Practice random acts of anonymous kindness.
Day Twenty-four: Pray the scriptures by using the ancient art of Lectio Divina. For more information: http://www.valyermo.com/ld-art.html
Day Twenty-six: Think of persons who haven’t heard from you in a while. Give them a call, or send them a card. If there is something that needs mending in your relationship, take the first step.
Day Twenty-seven: Find ways to live more simply, sharing God's good gifts with others by protecting the environment and supporting local farmers. Read stickers and labels to see where your food is grown. Make efforts to buy food grown within our community or state.
Day Twenty-eight: Learn the names of individuals contributing to the leadership of the local community. Offer prayers for them. Express your appreciation for their service.
Day Twenty-nine: Make a prayer wall at home. Put up a large piece of paper and encourage family members to write or draw pictures of the prayers of joy and concern they have for that day. Pray together for each person and for the prayer they have expressed.
Day Thirty: Slow down and observe the Sabbath. Whether Sabbath time is one hour in a day or a 24 hour period, take time to intentionally stop “working” and spend time in worship, prayer, and family time.
Day Thirty-one: Follow your breath as it leads to God. Simply observe your breath. Inhale and exhale slowly, recognizing that breathing is a life sustaining and God-infused action.
Day Thirty-two: Fast. The purpose of fasting is to support our prayers and heighten our awareness of a most basic human need. Paying attention to our hunger can help us connect to our thirst for God and the emptiness we feel. Fast one day or one meal to join our physical needs to spiritual ones.
Day Thirty-three: Spring cleaning can be more than a way to get rid of “stuff.” Along with asking yourself “what don’t I want” also practice asking “what don’t I need?” Invite God into these questions and explore together a journey of letting go of the excess in your life.
Day Thirty-four: Light a candle. Pray as it is lit “Lord thank you for the gift of your Light in the midst of all darkness. Let this candle be a symbol of our faith in your presence among us.”
Day Thirty-five: We follow Jesus and journey with others whose heritage has left a path before us. Reflect on your faith journey and remember the names of those in whose footsteps you are following and who is on the road with you now. Find a way to share with them your gratitude for journeying with you.
Day Thirty-six: Find ways to recognize people as children of God. Make eye contact with the grocery store clerk. Smile at strangers.
Day Thirty-seven: Try fasting from a different kind of hunger, consumerism. Choose one day in Lent, or one day each week to prayerfully explore consumer spending habits and how we often buy more than we need. Refrain from making purchases on that day.
Day Thirty-eight: Death is inevitably part of the Lenten journey as we tell the story of Jesus death on the cross and find assurance of our new life we have because of the resurrection. Take this time to remember those who have new life with God and be strengthened by the witness of their lives. Take our photos of family members and friends who have died. Talk about these people with your children or share their stories with a friend.
Day Thirty-nine: Learn and practice the traditional practice of praying the Stations of the Cross. Ask a friend who attend a Catholic church if you might attend a Lenten program with them that prays the stations, or visit: http://www.markdroberts.com/htmfiles/resources/stationsofthecross.htm
Day Forty: Practice resurrection. We are the people of resurrection and hope, called to live passionately and compassionately with others, to defy death, to forgive, and to bring others back into the community, to do something that is life-giving, that fights death and needless suffering.