The spiritual discipline of preparing for Easter may be designed for 40 days, but if you’re willing to do away with tradition, there’s no time like the present to start your Lenten practice, writes Dominique Emery.
As someone who has never been particularly bound by either tradition or discipline, my own experiences of Lent have erred towards the experimental rather than the conventional.
I’d never heard of Lent until I’d been a Christian for at least a decade. Since I’ve begun to observe more of the Christian calendar, I’ve approached Lent as a time-bound way of “stepping into” who I want to be – a person made in the image of God, who participates in a world as the “kingdom come”. My Lenten practices have enabled me to stretch my imagination as I’ve tried to figure out how to live in a way that is meaningful for these two outcomes.
For me, these outcomes are essential. Without them, I have a tendency to treat my Lenten practice as self-help. I give up food because it’s good for my body, or I give away things so I can have a less cluttered house, or I practice hospitality because I want to improve my social connections. These are all positive outcomes, but Lent is designed to go deeper. Much, much deeper than self-help can ever go.
As I practise Lent, I have to consciously link my action to my outcome. Often, this means making sure that someone else, someone in need, benefits from my daily practice. For example, if my daily practice was to eat simple food, then the money saved is given to the poor. Or the items I remove from my house are consciously donated to an op shop with a mission I align to with.
The list below is a brief overview of common Lenten practices, both traditional and contemporary that you might want to adopt. There are many, many more.
Over the years, I have adopted variations of #1, #2, #4 and #10. For example for #4, I put at least one thing a day into my “op shop box” at home, and take it every week to be emptied. Some days I find myself clearing out rubbish around the house – excess cardboard, broken items, torn clothing. These go to the recycling station or are repurposed. There’s no point taking broken things to the op shop!
I’ve approached Lent as a time-bound way of “stepping into” who I want to be – a person made in the image of God, who participates in a world as the “kingdom come”.
1. Giving up food: Perhaps the most traditional practice is to avoid certain foods. Popular ones to do without include meat, sugar, dairy, drinks other than water, non-organic food or non-fair trade produce. More extreme examples include regular fasting.
2. Giving up experiences: In a world soaked with privilege and information overload, some people choose to avoid social media, TV, eating out, entertainment, or even books other than the Bible.
3. Giving up comforts: These practices tend to involve a level of discomfort. Some people stop wearing shoes and walk barefoot; others give up the convenience of driving, or household heating or cooling.
4. Giving away things: The daily practice of giving away your things – either selling them and giving the money to those in need, or giving them to the op shop.
5. Giving away money: The love of money is a major barrier to relationship with God, and the regular practice of giving is a powerful way to bring change in your own life as well as in the lives of the marginalised.
6. Giving away time: The sharing of time is a great way to strengthen our communities. Perhaps you could show hospitality to those on the margins, share a meal with strangers, visit those who are lonely, or volunteer in your neighbourhood. Build social bridges.
7. Practising prayer and meditation: Common examples are to pray the Daily Examen (an Ignatian prayer) each day, follow Phillis Tickles’ Divine Hours book or the Lectio Devina, or simply commit to praying for those in need.
8. Practising biblical reflection: For those who do not already read the Bible each day, this is an excellent way to start. You could also use a devotional like the TEAR Lent series which uses beautiful artwork, prayers and reflections + a small group bible study to guide you through Lent.
9. Practising intentional gratitude: Some families choose to share experiences for which they are thankful, others write them down in a diary or blog, or light a candle at the dinner table.
10. Caring for the environment: This has become a popular way of observing Lent. You could walk instead of using the car, plant trees or vegetables, or minimise electricity use.