Lent. It is quickly approaching as we celebrate the Last Sunday after the Epiphany this week. Next Wednesday, we will gather for one of two fasts on the main calendar of the church year: Ash Wednesday. (In case you are wondering, the second day of fasting on the calendar is Good Friday.) We will come together to worship and to enter into a holy Lent as a community seeking to go deeper in its walk with Christ.
As we approach Ash Wednesday, it might be good of us to consider how we are going to lent. Down through the years, we have all thought of Lent as a season for giving something up. This tradition is, more or less, a pared down practice of fasting. As we consider fasting in one way or another, it might be that we need to think about the act of fasting a bit differently this year. Put another way, we might need to ask ourselves how we are going to lent in order to grow more fully into the fullness of the stature of Christ.
Normally, we might think of giving up a certain kind of food (chocolate being the perennial favorite) or giving up being on social media or some other kind of activity like that. Regardless of what we give up, it is intended to be something that will help us to grow in relationship with God. For this year, I wonder if we might need to think of this in a slightly different way given what we have been through over the last year.
In place of giving up a food or social media or something along those lines, what if we thought about giving up busy-ness? How might we be able to grow closer to God by committing ourselves to those things that are really quite important to us while letting go of those things that are not giving us life and vitality? It seems to me that we would create more space in our lives for tending to those things that are at the center of our being. In the process of doing so, we might find that we are easily able to create more space for intentional time for growing in relationship with God.
On that token, we might also think about this as taking on something new as our way of doing lent. In this approach, we are taking on a new practice for a time as we seek to grow in our relationship with the Divine. Here, we might explore a new prayer practice, reading a certain book of the Bible, or intentionally calling people with whom we would like to reconnect. Whatever the practice is that we take on, it is important for us to recognize that taking on a new practice also comes with giving up something else. We have to create the space for the new practice, and we can only do that when we are willing to let go of something else – something that is not giving us life and joy.
Thus, we come back to the question: how are we going to Lent? It is a question that is good for us to ask of our congregation as a whole. Beyond the individual decisions that we will all make for the Lenten season (and I do hope you will consider picking up one of the Lenten offerings through Epiphany like our Wednesday evening Lenten program or the Rector’s Lenten Bible Study), we can also begin thinking about these questions as a parish. What are those things that we have held onto that are no longer providing life for the parish? How might we be able to let go of those while giving thanks for the years that the ministry was filled with life and joy? Quite similarly, we will need to pay attention to how God is inviting to take on new practices as a parish as we let go of others. Where is God calling us forward into our community? How can we learn about the needs of our community, and through listening to our neighbors, what kind of ministry might we launch in the years ahead?
Lent is a time for us to come back to our center, to reclaim space for doing the mission of the Church, and to grow in ever fruitful relationship with God. Let us take the next several days to discern how God is inviting each one of us to Lent, and let us use the visioning listening sessions in the coming weeks to discern where God is calling our parish forward in ministry and mission.