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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Pausing on the Doorstep: Preparing for Keeping a Good Lent

The Tuesday before Ash Wednesday is a dieter's nightmare.   Mardi Gras, or "fat Tuesday" is traditionally the day when all fats and sugars are removed from Christian homes in preparation for the Lenten fast.    Tossing them would be wasteful, so...there are doughnuts, or in England, pancakes, to be made.  Lots of them.

It is also the day when sin and habits adverse to the Christian life, are to be whisked away.  This is the reason for the lesser known name for the day, "Shrove Tuesday".  It is the day when we "shrive" or remove, sin from our being, through confession.

Whatever ones theological bent, there is something to be said for preparing for Lent.  All good things require preparation, don't they?

(For an introduction to the purpose of Lent, look here.)

Here are some things that we might consider in planning for a good Lent:

Lent itself is a journey of repentance and self renewal, but, a good healthy examination of conscience is an excellent way to get started.  After all, we need to know what we are dealing with, in ourselves, before we set about improving things.

How does one examine ones conscience?  Here are some approaches:

*  Read and think on the ten commandments.  Consider how you are doing in applying their wisdom to your own choices in life.  Here they are (NIV), and here is excellent resource (Catholic).

*  Consider how you are doing in terms of worship, prayer, study, serving, inviting, and giving.  Take a look at how you might improve.  Here is a resource (Protestant) for a thorough examination of these areas.

*If you are part of a tradition that practices confession to a priest/pastor, consider going for confession on Mardi Gras/ Shrove Tuesday.

Alms-giving, or giving to charity,  is one of the pillars of Lenten observance.  Lent is a time for sacrifice, for looking beyond your own needs and recognizing the needs of others.

*  Establish an alms-box in your home.  Collect loose change in it throughout Lent for sacrificial giving to the church, or another good cause.  Here are some great ideas for household alms-giving with kids.

Alms, Thorma, 1870-1936 PD-ART
*  Consider meatless Fridays in Lent.
 If you are Catholic, this goes without saying, but the practice can be useful for Protestants, as well.  Use the experience to remind yourself of the sacrifice that Our Lord made for us on the cross, and to pare down your understanding of "needs" vs. "wants".  Set aside the money that you save for giving to the church, or another worthwhile cause.

*  Choose something to give up, ...the proverbial daily Starbucks, some entertainment, or other luxury that you usually enjoy...and set the money saved aside for giving.

*  Fast from eating out.  Use the money saved for alms-giving.

Prayer is another of the essential pillars of a good Lent.  It sounds easy doesn't it?  But, in reality, we all know that an improved prayer life is better accomplished with a clear plan.

*  Choose a specific place to pray.

*  Choose a specific time to pray.

*  Pray the scriptures.  Read a psalm, or other Bible selection each day and do it prayerfully, contemplatively, intentionally.  Allow God to speak to you through the content.

*  Pray the daily office.  I will say it again:  God did not warn us against "repetitions"...He warned us against "meaningless" repetitions.  The daily office, in its various forms is scripturally grounded and can be a blessing.   Here is a good resource  (Anglican).   Give it a try.  You won't melt, catch on fire, or explode, even if you are a Protestant.  I promise.

Fasting is the final essential pillar of keeping a good Lent.  It can be fasting from foods, activities, or negative habits.  I think we all know that there are things that we could do without.  And, even choosing to do without things that are not necessarily negative, but just highly desired, can draw us closer to God by helping us focus on the essentials.  Most things have the potential to become an idol.  Cutting things out helps us to discern where our priorities are.
Here are some things to fast from.  None is compulsory. Choosing a fast is a personal thing.:

*  Foods:
It goes without saying that we live a life of plenty.  Gluttony is easy to fall into in our present culture.

*  Media:
This is a rather timely option.  Media has changed our modern day existence...and not always for the better.  Some of us could do with some fasting in this area.  We know whom we are.

*  Days:
A retreat can be a marvelous Lenten observance.  It doesn't have to be a formal organized retreat.  It can   simply be a withdrawing from everyday life for an hour, a day...or the duration of naptime... to sit with God in contemplation.

*  Caffeine, Alcohol, Sweets
We, each one of us, know what our crutches are.  We also know that we ought to be leaning on God.

*  "Choose your poison".
You know what your idols are.  You don't need me to tell you.

Whatever you do this Lenten it to the glory of God.  Lent is not about us.  It's about our relationship with him.  Keep it in perspective.

This coming Tuesday, February 21, is Mardi Gras/Shrove Tuesday.  Lent starts Wednesday.  If you haven't already, it's time to plan your Lenten journey.  Your plans can be simple.  It's better to do only one thing than do do nothing.  But, do plan.

Pax Christi,
For More on Lent, check here.

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  1. It's hard for me to figure out what a good Lenten commitment would be for me. Media is huge for me. Probably my most meaningful fasting will be with my mouth - but talking, not eating! It's hard to give up food but to give up hearing myself talk - torture! lol

  2. Helpful post, and your picture of the Slovak phone made me laugh. I have a few slovak friends who could do without their phones.

    1. Oh! I didn't actually LOOK at the phone. It had a Facebook I went with it. =P

    2. ...I suppose I should change that...but right now, I've got a veil to make...

    3. Izzy, now that picture is gonna be at the back of my mind all day...ugh.

    4. Sorry D:
      I notice all the languages I encounter on a daily basis so maybe only I noticed.

  3. Thanks! Your post is very helpful for me.

  4. thank you for these resources, Michelle.

  5. Thank you so much for sharing these will the number one on my list.

  6. Such lovely thoughts and reminders as we approach this season. I appreciate them all but especially the reminder that Lent isn't about us but about our relationship to God.

  7. We had a shrove Tuesday pancake dinner at our church tonight but missed it for the first time in years. Lent has crept quietly onto the calendar and I am feeling lost and spent. Thank you for these suggestions and all this wonderful information. I need to sit with my ashes tomorrow and greet Love at the door.

  8. What a lovely article full on interesting information on the subject of Lent - perfect for the first day of Lent 2012. I love to use Lent, like Advent, as a lovely opportunity to really spend time with my grandkids teaching them more about Jesus and His love for them, about His death on the cross, His resurrection and their relationship with Him. It's a special time of planting seeds in their hearts and minds for an eternity - leaving a sweet spiritual legacy for a lifetime.

  9. I'm focusing on our three pillars ... prayer, fasting and almsgiving. I'm planning on an hour of Adoration each week, donating some of my proceeds from a consignment sale to our church, working with 40 days for Life, and curbing my cursing! Glad to have stumbled across your site.

  10. Lent is not about us...but about relationship with, so very true.

    Another wonderful encouraging post, thank you.


  11. What a wonderful collection of resources you've put together here. We do actively participate in Lent, but you've given me some new ideas to pursue.

    And I got a big kick out of this: "You won't melt, catch on fire, or explode, even if you are a Protestant. I promise."



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