by Ben Thomas
Our culture is obsessed with medication. We are conditioned to numb our pain every chance we get. We all do it. Most of us find it very difficult to open ourselves to the possibility of pain. This has a lot to do with why we have such a difficult time with being silent, still and present.
Lent is a reality check that encourages us to get naked and look in the mirror. No hiding and no games. It’s a 40 day detox from our self-medication and pain-numbing tendencies.
Lent began in the third century with the purpose of preparing believers for the celebration of Christ’s resurrection at Easter. It is a 40-day calendar focus (meant to mirror Jesus’ 40 days of temptation in the desert) and usually involved some sort of disciplines such as prayer, repentance and fasting.
For centuries, Christians have used Lent as an opportunity to shift our pace, slow down and do just that: take an honest and clear-headed look at our own lives. Lent (which actually comes from the word “spring”) lasts for 40 days just before Easter. It begins with Ash Wednesday and culminates in Holy Week (which walks us through the final days of Jesus on earth) and Easter Sunday.
The Church celebrates our cycles and seasons, inviting us to see and engage and feel and touch and be aware and grow and be transformed. Through myth and symbol the experiences which make up our daily lives are affirmed and made sacred. (“To Dance with God” by G. M. Nelson)
Practicing Lent as part of the Church Calendar grounds us into the rhythms of creation and into the patterns of death and rebirth found in all of creation. It also connects us to millions of Christians all around the world who are on the same journey. Together, we march step by step from the death of winter, into a season where hope springs forth and births something full of new life.
By practicing one or several spiritual practices during Lent, we are invited into a journey of “little deaths” that make room for rebirth in our lives. These practices help us to stay awake and aware of the pain in our own lives, and keep us from numbing out by serving as a wakeup call in our day-to-day lives.
One practice you may be familiar with is fasting. Fasting is simply an intentional step we take to keep ourselves awake for these 40 days. It’s like pinching yourself to make sure you’re not dreaming. Is it uncomfortable? Sure. Is it painful? Sure. But that is not the purpose of it. The purpose is to jolt us into a state of present moment awareness… It’s like a break in the pattern… it’s like a scratch in the record that pulls you out of that trance.
See, when we feel we are brought to here, because we obviously are not there. It brings us to now, because we obviously not then or then. It heightens our awareness of what is real.
But fasting is just one way of doing this. Really, any contemplative practice, when done well and with intention, can bring about this kind of awareness. So, while fasting might include a “giving up” Milk Duds or websites or scotch to break our pattern, “taking on” meditation or prayer or silence each also have the potential of pulling from our numb-and-dumb mindlessness into a world where we can harness the reigns of our attention and bring a new perspective into focus.
In doing so, Lent slows us down. It’s a 40-day commitment to put the brakes on the ceaseless stream of thoughts and chatter that clutter our existence.
Ronald Rolheiser says,
Lent invites us to stop eating whatever protects us from having to face the desert that is inside of us. It invites us to feel our smallness, to feel our vulnerability, to feel our fears, and to open ourselves up the chaos of the desert so that we can finally give the angels a chance to feed us. That’s the Christian ideal of Lent, to face one’s chaos.
Lent begins with a reminder that “from dust we come and to dust we shall return”. It grounds us in the earth of our humanity, and reminds us that though we are made in the image of God, we are not God. And though God may dwell in our essence and our being, we are ultimately subservient to a larger force… a greater power. It is from this power we are derivative, and to the power we return. With every molecule of air we take in and exhale. With every cell of skin that is created on our body and then falls off. With every word we receive and every sentence we inject. We are not independent, but intricately connected to this power.
Ash Wednesday starts us here.
How is this done? It’s done with repentance. Repentance is a “change of mind”… a turning from one pattern of thinking into a new one. This turning allows us to shift from our independent, selfsufficient mindset to one that embraces the awareness of our own frailty and brokenness. It sets the tone for the rest of the season.
This year at The Orchard, we will be celebrating Ash Wednesday together during a special Wednesday night gathering. During the gathering we will participate together in several multi-sensory experiences, including the marking crosses with ashes on our foreheads as physical reminder of these truths.
As we journey together through these forty days, taking on spiritual practices that bring about this awareness of brokenness and pain in our lives, we will all have a different experience. We will be encouraging our community to participate in this together by joining a small group and by participating in the scripture readings posted on our website.
In the midst of this journey we will gather together each weekend and be reminded of the hope that is to come… renewal, rebirth and ressurection are just around the corner. Each weekend celebration serves as a “little Easter” – a small break in our season of introspection for a time of joyful celebration. This year, during Lent, we’ll be turning our focus toward the lectionary in our weekly teachings.
Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday (when we celebrate Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem) and walks us through the final days of Jesus on earth. During that week we our community will be invited to participate in a communal prayer experience as well as a special set of readings as individuals.
Good Friday commemorates the events that took place on the night of Jesus’ death. The Good Friday gathering is meant to feel a bit like a funeral… allowing the weight of the crucifixion to be felt by our community.
After journeying well through Lent and Holy week, Easter Sunday will be a lifebrimming party of an event for our community. Far more than a simple reason to rent some extra lighting gear and invite the neighbors to church, Easter opens up the floodgates of joy and new life on us, and invites us to celebrate from a deeplyrooted and honest place of hope.
In case you missed it, check out Scott Hodge’s teaching on Lent (Feb 6/7 podcast).
Also, be sure to check out our Lenten resource page.