By the time you read this, we will be in the season of Lent. Many of you will have attended an Ash Wednesday service, either virtually or in person. The celebrant will have invited you “to observe a holy Lent by self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, and alms giving, and by reading and meditating on the word of God.”
But many of you may be saying, “We’ve had 2 years of living and struggling with the Covid pandemic, with natural disasters from climate change, with social upheaval. We haven’t been able to worship as we are used to, or attend social events. Many of us have lost people who are dear to us. We are in mourning for them, and for so much that has changed over the past 2 years. Haven’t we suffered enough? Do we really need a season of penitence as well?”
In popular culture, Lent is seen as a time of self-denial, of giving up the things we love to indulge in which are also bad for us—chocolate, deserts, wine, sugary food. It is like revisiting our New Year’s resolutions, which we were unable to stick with in January. But is this what Lent is really about?
Lent as “a time of repentance” is really about turning around and letting go of those things that separate us from God. Things like self-centredness, laziness, greed. “Self-examination” is hard work, and not always pleasant, but if we
look at ourselves honestly and try to do better even in small ways, with God’s help, it can have great results. Working with a close friend, a partner, a spiritual director, can be very helpful in this process. Lent can be a good time to journal your thoughts or record what you are grateful for, in words or pictures; or whatever medium you enjoy.
“Prayer” is always worthwhile. Lent can be a time to try out different or new kinds of prayer. Perhaps starting a routine of saying Morning Prayer every day, or trying out Compline (Night Prayer) with our bishop in the evening. The Internet is a valuable resource for finding these services. I have discovered the “Garden congregation” of Canterbury Cathedral, where Dean Robert leads morning prayers in the deanery garden, often accompanied by cats, poultry or
“Almsgiving”—giving to charity—is something we do normally, but maybe you could do something special for Lent, such as putting aside some coins every day for a particular charity you are fond of. Doing volunteer work such as helping with a food bank or delivering meals is another, very valuable form of almsgiving.
“Reading and meditating on the word of God” is a highly satisfying way of renewing our understanding of God. Many parishes will have Lenten studies, and the Kelowna cathedral is doing one which is available to everyone in the diocese. Even reading a spiritually inspiring book is good; but discussion with others can deepen your understanding.
So these are some ways in which to have a new and deeper relationship to God, without undue further suffering. I hope you will have the opportunity to try some out. And may you have a holy Lent, and a joyous Easter!