Now, there’s something odd about counting the days of Lent. When we talk about the season, we’re referring to the 40 days leading up to Easter. When we observe it, however, we’re talking about 6 1/2 weeks, which comes out to about 46 days (depending on how you count). The discrepancy is easily understood: the Sundays throughout Lent are not considered days for fasting (ie. Lenten observance), but feast days (Sunday is always a feast day, as it is the day of resurrection: we worship on Sunday, rather than Saturday, because we constantly celebrate Easter). There were times, when I was younger, that I took this as a license to cease Lenten observance; it was a loophole to be exploited. However, it strikes me that as my Lenten disciplines have matured (from simply doing what I should have always done to observing a special time of intense discipleship training and spiritual formation), the way I observe it must also. If Sundays are days for specially honouring Christ, then they are days for keeping Lenten discipline, whether they “count” in the 40 days of Lent or not.
I don’t think I was quite decided on my Lenten disciplines for this year when I woke up yesterday morning. I’ve been tired beyond reason; I’ve been stressed to capacity; I’ve fallen into some bad habits: television is an escape, and I’ve been staying up late watching it – which only perpetuates things; comfort foods are so… comfortable, and I’ve been eating them – which is bad for my weight and diabetes. Yesterday began like any normal day, considering what “normal” has become in recent months. That’s not good. Do not settle your mind on the idea that regular, or ordinary, is good. Or that good is good enough.
I took Adriana over to the Greek Orthodox Church, following our worship. They had already completed their service last evening, and were downstairs for their meal, but I took Adriana through their worship space. Glorious chandeliers, deeply symbolic icons, candles to light in remembrance of others, and the smell of incense. I talked to her about the saints, pictured in the icons. I explained the imagery of incense in worship. If you’ve ever heard me talk about the Greek Orthodox Church, you’ll have heard me say that “these are people who do not cater to the congregants, in their worship, but offer their worship to God as they have for centuries, simply because God is worthy of their praise.” That’s getting ahead of myself, but its theme is fitting for what I’m writing about, so I include it here. At our own Ash Wednesday service, I distributed the A Rule of Life pamphlets from the Anglican Fellowship of Prayer (Canada). These pamphlets go through the development of a Rule of Life, and give a form for assessing the effectiveness of one’s Rule. The pamphlets include some instruction in different disciplines, and some teaching on why those are important, and focus on Piety, Study, and Apostolic Action. These are the three ideals for Christian growth and living that are put forward through the Cursillo movement. More of these are available.
The idea of a Rule of Life is not foreign to Christian faith: a disciplined life, engaging the spiritual disciplines through personal piety and sharing in the sacraments has always been a hallmark of devoted Christian living, from the monks in the desert to the worshipers in city cathedrals. Anglican tradition has deep roots in monasticism, and so it is not surprise that we find in our Prayerbook:
“Every Christian man or woman should from time to time frame for himself a Rule of Life in accordance with the precepts of the Gospel and the faith and order of the Church; wherein he may consider the following:
The regularity of his attendance at public worship and especially at the holy Communion.
The practice of private prayer, Bible-reading, and self-discipline.
Bringing the teaching and example of Christ into his everyday life.
The boldness of his spoken witness to his faith in Christ.
His personal service to the Church and the community.
The offering of money according to his means for the support of the work of the Church at home and overseas.” (The Book of Common Prayer, 1962, p. 555)
Jesus is very clear that when we undertake any kind of pious action, it is between us and God. It is not to be done to gain glory or honour or esteem with other people. In many cases, this has left our Lenten disciplining of ourselves a private affair. Yet I am so often struck with the important difference that exists between private and personal. While Lenten discipline is to be undertaken at a personal level, this does not necessarily mean privately. It is certainly not a show, not to be undertaken for oneself, nor to be noticed by others. At the same time, “others” are our friends, our confidants; they are people who can encourage us in our disciplines, who can pray for our faithfulness to them, who can keep us accountable. And so I’ll let you in on how I’m observing Lent this year. Keep me accountable. Pray for me, brothers and sisters, as I do for you. My Lenten discipline, this year, is not to abstain from comfort food. It’s not to limit my television watching, or how often I eat out, or how much pop I might drink. My Lenten discipline, this year, is to rely on the Lord more – and in doing so, I will rely on these things less. My Lenten discipline, this year, is to engage in those things that really are life-giving – those things that draw me close to the Lord.
In practical ways, this works itself out through the daily offices (Morning and Evening Prayer), the praying of which is a part of every priest’s ordination vows, through daily engagement with appropriate devotional material, through regular visitation of those who desire or require my availability, and (perhaps most markedly, as it is the area I need to change most drastically in) through not spending inordinate amounts of time with things that are not my burden to carry. This is a skeleton, I know. There’s lots of flesh to put on those bones, and I will. I will blog every morning until Easter, reflecting on the previous day. You are invited to post comments – respond to what I’ve written, or share your own Lenten journey. We walk together, so let’s walk through Lent together.