“I am only one, but still I am one.
I cannot do everything, but still I can do something.
And because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do the something I can do.”

Edward Everett Hale

Thursday, 19 February 2015

The Three Sides of Lent

This year there has been quite a flurry of interest among Unitarian friends about Lent, and what they are planning to "do" for it. Which has made me look at this Christian season more closely. On the one hand, there is the self-denying, penitential aspect, which (interestingly) many secular folk have also latched on to. Even my avowedly-atheist son knows that you are supposed to give up something for Lent. And on the other hand, there is the life-affirming, positive aspect of using the period of Lent to intentionally establish a new spiritual practice, which I rather like. And in between these, there is the idea of giving up something as a positive practice, rather than as a penitential one.

So let's look at these three approaches to Lent, and perhaps pick one that appeals to us, and resolve to do something about it, now, here, in 2015.

First of all, giving something up as a penitential, self-denying practice. I had toyed with the idea of giving up chocolate for Lent, really as a way of losing weight, when I read a post from Unvirtuous Abbey "For those who think that the season of Lent is The Biggest Loser - Jesus Edition, we pray." And winced. I cannot enter into the "proper" Christian self-denying head space, so I think it would be disrespectful of me to give up something for Lent just because.

And anyhow, I don't really want to.

However, there is another aspect to giving something up, which may be more appealing to Unitarians, because it could be done for what we might consider to be "the right motives." That is, to decide to give something up for Lent for a positive reason. For example, if you have played with the idea of giving up meat and becoming vegetarian, you might swear off meat for the period of Lent as a dry-run at making a beneficial change to your lifestyle. But this will only work if you had thought about it before, rather than doing it just for the sake of it.

The approach to Lent that really speaks to my condition is that of adopting a positive spiritual practice. They say that it takes twenty repetitions of a particular action / renunciation to form a new habit, so the forty days of Lent should be ample time to form a fairly solid new spiritual practice. Last year a friend started a Facebook page, Photography as a Spiritual Practice, which he and other folk who joined him have maintained ever since, with a different theme each week.

In my case, I have decided to really get to grips with centering prayer, a spiritual practice which I have started innumerable times, but not managed to stick to for more than about a week, before the excuses started. In a way, it is the simplest spiritual practice of all, as it consists of sitting in silence, waiting on God. Just that. Just sitting. Just. Sitting.

But let me tell you, it is the hardest thing in the world. At least for me, because I find it so hard to still my mind. To let go. To just be. Yet so many people whose opinions I respect have talked about the benefits to be derived from this practice, that I am giving it one more try, during this Lenten season. I started yesterday, on Ash Wednesday, and intend to sit for 25 minutes every morning until Good Friday. By which time, I hope, I will be starting to get some benefit from it.

May your Lent be beneficial to your spirit, however you choose to mark it.

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