|Photo by Kathleen Barry, UMComm|
One dimension of Lent is our quietly secretive withdrawal from normal activities to make room for fasting, prayer and alms-giving. Lent invites us to give up some of our normal daily habits to make room for more sacred enterprises, some of which may become enduring changes in lifestyle. Spending extra time in prayerful devotion heightens our awareness of the divine presence and freshens our personal relationship with God. Charitable contribution of our time and resources bends our focus toward the needs of family, friends and neighbors, clarifying our success and failure in loving others as Christ has loved us. The more secretive we are about these aspects of our spirituality, the more our Heavenly Parent who sees us in secret rewards us openly (Matthew 6:4,6,18).
The public dimension is also an important part of Lent, empowering personal and corporate growth along with a witness to our faith. The Transfiguration reminds us of the importance of shared experiences, even of prayer (Matthew 17:1-9). While Jesus cautions us not to be hypocritical, warning that anything done in public has the potential of limiting the benefits, most of the events in the Gospels and Acts took place openly. Additional worship services, Bible studies, retreats and other group programs the Church emphasizes as we prepare to celebrate the Resurrection serve to unite the faith community, strengthen our witness together, and enrich our individual discipleship.
Spiritual housecleaning is another crucial dimension of Lent. Through the year, our schedules fill with all sorts of things that diffuse our attention and detract from our discipleship. Many of these are intrinsically good and wholesome, but they crowd out our calling like the proverbial seed that fell among the thorns (Mark 4:7). Our lives can easily become cluttered with thoughts and feelings as with material objects. Annual renewal includes sorting and divesting of unnecessary burdens, liberating ourselves for holiness and service. “And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God” (Romans 12:2). ” (Romans 12:2).
Lent equips us to face ourselves honestly and make the inward and outward changes required for reviving our spirits. At the end of these few weeks, our self-examination leads to celebration of the new life we share in Christ. Some of the changes we make during Lent will be lasting, while others will fade as the year unfolds. We are reminded of who we are, where we have come from and where we are going, as we repent and believe the Gospel (Mark 1:15).