As usual, I am overthinking the soon-to-arrive season of Lent. I have had a love/hate relationship with these 40 days for decades. On one hand, I subject myself to hours and hours of introspection prior to Ash Wednesday trying to figure out what my Lenten disciplines should be. On the other hand, I realize that being serious is something I don’t need to practice. It comes naturally.
As a matter of fact, my seriousness is so evident to others that I’m often advised to lighten up! About 23 years ago my spiritual director, Sr. Leslie of the Community of the Holy Spirit, was counseling me in the final days of Epiphany just before Lent. After hearing my plans for an ascetic observance of Lent, she urged me, in essence, to lighten up. She forbade me from doing almost all the misery-producing things I had planned and told me to simply enjoy life during Lent. She saw my obsession and chose to call it out. It didn’t work for long. I still rub myself raw contemplating how to keep a Holy Lent.
But this year will be different. As some people have noted, Lent 2020 has lasted for a whole year and now we’re on the doorstep of Lent 2021. On Ash Wednesday few of us need to be reminded that “we are but dust, and to dust we shall return.” We’re painfully aware of it already thanks to daily updates on pandemic deaths. So maybe this Ash Wednesday we can put aside the usual hyper-awareness about our certain mortality, and do something a bit less morbid. (I’m not suggesting skipping the Imposition of Ashes on Wednesday. Just don’t spend too much time pondering the words uttered by your priest as she/he imposes the ashes.)
So how can this Lent be different and, yes, lighter than usual? I suggest starting with the recommendations in the Book of Common Prayer about keeping Lent holy, then tinker with them a bit. Here is what is recommended: self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting, self-denial, and reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.
Why not think of all the activities that excite and animate us, that bring out our best, that make us happy afterward, and do more of them. We will be happier and easier to live with. Most will find that such activities involve either enjoying the natural world or being with people you love, or both.
This word also means turning around. So why not turn around and leave the horrors of 2020 and early 2021 behind? How about repenting for allowing people like Donald Trump and Lindsey Graham to make us miserable. They and their kind surely deserve to be put in the past. Doing so will help us pay a bit less attention to the sad state of politics in this country.
Fasting and Self-Denial
Forget it for this year. Enough said.
Reading and Meditating on God’s Holy Word
Like many Christians, this is something that I do year-round as I read the Daily Office with some regularity and attend Mass on Sundays. Most years I try to do a bit more of it during Lent, but not this year. Don’t want to get too serious this year!
So I contemplate a Lent that’s not miserable, but instead a happy time. I’ll lighten up and do what Sister Leslie counseled long ago. Doing so will be entirely consistent with keeping a Holy Lent at this juncture in our lives.