Reclaiming Lent – Day 1
March 29, 2020
Reclaiming Lent: 14 days of prayer + fasting
Day One: Embrace the Moment
A few years ago, I got to experience my first Lenten season in very Catholic New England. At the time, I worked for a small Catholic college so I was quite amazed to see so many opportunities to engage the Lenten season throughout the campus, including but not limited to an ecumenical Ash Wednesday service, daily devotionals, special speakers, etc. What I did not anticipate was showing up to the cafeteria on the first Friday of the Lenten season only to realize that all of the meat options had been removed. I decided to take a chance on the Dunkin Donuts located on campus only to discover that, there too, the meat options had been removed. Some of you may know this, but I’m hypoglycemic so I don’t feel so well when I fail to eat a balanced meal and, some would say, I also get a bit cranky. …but it’s not my fault, it’s science!!
So, I decided to go back to the cafeteria to order grilled cheese and clam chowder (because seafood is still permitted…and it’s New England). While waiting for my grilled cheese I overheard a student grappling with the notion of all meat options being discontinued on Fridays for the duration of Lent. This student must have also been a bit hypoglycemic because, in full earshot of several faculty, administrators, and priests, he sighed, “…but I’m not even [insert hangry words here] Christian!” The lunch guy attempted to offer him the day’s special but the young man insisted that he would simply go off-campus for food.
Admittedly, I was not exactly thrilled about the idea of giving up meat on (Ash Wednesday and) Fridays throughout Lent. I had few choices. I could also have a complete meltdown in the cafeteria, joining at least one (h)angry student every year on the first Friday of Lent. I could work around the forced fast from meat, coincidentally bringing steak for lunch each Friday. …or I could embrace it as an opportunity to actually fast in multiple ways during the Lenten season. I chose the latter. In fact, one year, I even attempted to go meatless for the entire Lenten season to which one of my very dear Catholic friends joked, “ah, trying to ‘one up’ the Catholics!” It suffices to say, I was not fun to be around during the first two weeks of Lent that year, which is why that same friend also encouraged me to stop trying to prove my piety with poor fasting/dietary choices.
I hadn’t planned to give up meat on Fridays during Lent. It was sort of determined for me. I could have insisted on it but it would have required quite a bit of effort and planning to do so. My guess is that many of us didn’t anticipate having to give up so much this Lenten season without the comfort of knowing that the sacrifice would end at Easter. You’ve been forced to give up things that are much more meaningful to you than meat. For some of us, stable employment. For some of us, important projects and events. For some of us, important milestones in our lives…weddings festivities…senior year shenanigans. …and, for all of us, worship with the gathered church as well as time spent face-to-face with the family, friends, and other loved ones who don’t live with us. These are also things that are essential to life, the things that add weight or substance to our lives: gathered worship, relationships, and dignified or meaningful work.
Yet, we still have a few options. We can completely melt down, choosing to unleash rather than steward our thoughts and emotions. We can insist on normalcy, exhausting ourselves as we work around the conditions of social distancing to keep things exactly as they were. …or we can embrace it. …and the latter option, embracing it, requires intentionality.
One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 46. It’s a Psalm that I’ve memorized and a Psalm that I’ve translated such that those words are written on my heart. We all remember Psalm 46:10: “Be still and know that I am God!” It’s a great line but I think the entire psalm is fitting for this moment.
1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.
4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.
7 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
8 Come and see what the Lord has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”
11 The Lord Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.
Everything around us seems to have been knocked off kilter. The once solid ground seems to be giving way, proud and majestic mountains are quite literally trembling and quaking, and the waters themselves are tumultuous and uncertain. Yet, the call of our God in the midst of all that is stillness before Him. Why stillness? …because the very things that we’ve been forced to give up are so near and dear to us that it requires the voice of God Himself to anchor us – reminding us of who He is amidst chaos and who we are amidst all that’s been lost. …and, I would add, granting us the wisdom to know how to worship, love, serve, and repurpose our sense of vocation or work in a time where there simply isn’t a clear sense of the “right thing to do.”
It’s entirely possible to experience all the trauma, loss, and grief of this season and still miss what God is doing within us and around us. This is why fasting is incomplete without the intentionality of prayer. So, for the rest of the Lenten season, we invite you to take the time for stillness before God so that you can hear what He might be saying to you in all of this.
For today, I ask that you allow the Holy Spirit to pray for and through you in groanings too deep for words and that you would create space for the Spirit’s prayer by sitting quietly and attentively before God.
…and at the end of your time, whether 5 minutes or 60 minutes, simply say, “Amen.”
grace and peace,