Today, many Christians around the world are marking the start of Lent by observing Ash Wednesday. Ash Wednesday is Western in its liturgical origins. Eastern rite Christians start Lent by observing Forgiveness Sunday. No matter your liturgical heritage, Lent is a time of pilgrimage.
Every year, we approach Lent by considering what it means for us to journey towards Easter. Where are we now? Where might God be calling us next? Is Lent this year a time of moving or a time of staying still? No two Lenten seasons are ever the same. Yet, the two of us always experience Lent as a fertile time for spiritual growth.
For us, Lent is about being in a community where we prepare ourselves to encounter Easter. We look for ways to strengthen our shared spiritual life and dive more deeply into a community’s spiritual life. Lent has a rhythm of prayer, fasting, and alms giving. We discuss how we want to pray together and whether we want to commit to attending additional church services during the Lenten season. We love how Lent affords us more opportunities to gather with our broader church family. Living and eating together means that we typically take on the same fasting rule as much as we are able. Additionally, our church observes a collective fasting rule for when we eat together. We’ve belonged to many churches that take time to eat together during Lent, and we cherish how eating food together creates atmospheres of fellowship. Alms giving means different things to various people. Typically we choose to take on elements of shared service together.
Lent is also a time where we pray prayers that almost seem too big to pray at other times of year. We are preparing to encounter Christ in his passion, death, and resurrection. Who can predict what God will do? We pray for the grace to see our own sinfulness clearly, to align our lives more fully with how God intends us to live, and to proclaim the good news of Christ joyously. The rhythm of Lent gives us time and space to encounter God glorified while simultaneously searching our hearts.
This year, we find ourselves approaching Lent feeling a bit overwhelmed by possibilities. We have committed to attending a new local parish. We have adopted an adorable chocolate lab, Gemma, in hopes of training her to be a balance dog for Sarah. We are sitting on a mountain of prayer requests known fully by God alone. And we’re listening, hoping, and pleading to see what comes next. Lent has arrived once again. Where will we be when we proclaim the joy of the Resurrection?
Lent has many of those “thin places” where God seems quicker to act than we could possibly imagine. While it is a season of penance and acknowledgement of our mortality, it is also a season that brings excitement in unusual ways. We enter into Lent not knowing what bits of mystery God will help us to see more clearly. Even when neither of us expects it, we learn that God enters into our lives quietly and softly. Undertaking our Lenten efforts in community means that we open ourselves to see other people and ourselves in new light. We find that we’re more ready to listen to other people’s spiritual journeys and perhaps even take on a spiritual discipline that first strikes as as the antithesis of our spirituality. God can use the Lenten season to teach us lessons that we didn’t even know we needed to learn. Our Lenten efforts can help us leave time behind and tread upon holy ground. Lent is a time where communal and personal practices blur. One mark of a good Lent is when everyone in the community can point to specific places of personal spiritual growth.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on the Lenten pilgrimage. No matter what Lent looks like for you this specific season, we’re happy to pray for you. May Christ go with you, guiding and directing your steps.
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