One of my best friends from college grew up Catholic. So did I. He has long since left Catholicism behind. So have I. Every year when Lent rolls around I remember him for the way he would greet Lent each year. With snark and not mild disdain, he would comment on the Catholic practice of fasting and refraining from consuming meat or meat products on Fridays during Lent. Almost as a declaration of freedom, revolution, and emancipation from religions past he would say, “It’s Lent and I’m going to observe it this Friday by having meat for dinner…with a side dish of meat…and I’m going to give up not eating meat for Lent again this year.”
Even though I have gone into the ministry, I still find his Lenten declaration humorous because I grew up Catholic and it helps me be a little more light-hearted about aspects of the practice of the Catholicism I have given up. For a number of years after I left Catholicism, I abandoned the liturgical year of Christianity, but as I grew into my Unitarian Univeralism and realized my own spiritual path really was based in an open, inclusive, progressive view of the teachings and ministry of Jesus, I began to pay more attention to the passing of the church year and think a lot about how I can adapt and adopt it to my version of Christianity and freely following Jesus. I began to mark Advent, and let Christmas last a few weeks instead of being one day. I began to mark Lent and to spend six weeks, not one day, wondering more about resurrection, rebirth and renewal. I began to relish the feast of Pentecost or the coming of the Holy Spirit, because each moment can be its own Pentecost.
Now, Lent begins again. Like many people raised in a liturgical Christian tradition, my Catholic upbringing focussed on “giving things up” for Lent. It was a punishment system rather than a spiritual practice. It was fasting without benefit. We pledged to not eat candy or watch a favorite television program, and it was all done for spiritual benefit, but I never got much out of it.
My renewed celebration of Lent has focussed more on taking on practices or habits rather than giving things up. I now try to approach Lent as a time to begin doing something or re-committing to something that is good for my spiritual growth. Usually this involves a spiritual practice. A few years ago, I began walking as a spiritual practice. I stopped thinking of walking as part of my exercise routine and more as part of my prayer life. I tried to walk (and still do) at least 30-60 minutes a day. I do not listen to music, but try to be aware of my surroundings and aware of my inner life. I try to walk in the woods or near water and away from people and traffic. Not always easy, especially when living in a very urban environment.
This year I am re-committing to my eating plan and my exercise plan. Instead of not eating candy or giving up sweets for Lent, I am using these weeks to re-focus on the diet and workouts that helped me lose 80 pounds last year, as during the last two months, I have gained about 10 of them back. I tend to compulsively overeat and my interim ministry year back in the northeast has found me inside more and in the process of getting a divorce, more stressed out and worried about money, so it’s been easier to skip workouts and add a little food. I’m happy that I have not returned to eating foods I barred from diet, such as dairy, gluten, and sugar. Still, it’s time to strengthen the focus once more.
I encourage everyone to try Lent on for size, especially Unitarian Universalists. Take it as challenge to deepen your spirit. As this winter becomes spring (the word Lent actually comes from an Old English word meaning Spring or Springtime) I encourage you to reexamine your spiritual practices. These are the things you do with intention, repetition and depth that touch your heart, recenter yourself and connect you to your own thoughts and feelings and to the world around you. If you do not have a spiritual practice, consider one or all three of these: Pray, Play, and Pass it On.
Praying can take many forms. Sitting in silence is prayer. Yoga is prayer. Journaling is prayer. Don’t worry about who you are praying to or why. Just pray. Let it be a heart and spirit thing, not an intellectual endeavor. Think of it as looking for a core, foundational spiritual practice.
Play is something too many people give up at much too young an age. Just have some fun at something that doesn’t have to have larger purpose or accomplish anything. Perhaps you can just play catch with your children, or board games with friends and family, or go to a movie and have coffee once a week. Perhaps choose a different person in your life to go with you each week of Lent.
Pass on the blessings of your life. If service and social justice is not an integral part of your life, find something to give your time and money to that makes the world around you a better place. If you already do this, reflect on why you do it and recommit to it with a new depth and intensity.
Perhaps one of these will work for you, perhaps all three will, or perhaps none of them will speak to you. But try them on. If you do or if you have other Lenten practices to share, please comment and let me know what you’re doing and how it’s going.
I am going to recommit to blogging as a way to tackle all three at once. Writing has long been minor spiritual practice for me and since I am not composing anything (such as sermon) on a weekly basis right now, it can also serve as my public prayer and pulpit. I find blogging fun. It’s always been a favorite hobby that brings together vocation and avocation. I’m also going to try and consciously write more about social justice issues again.