We stood next to each other at the “Little Publix” on Thompson Bridge Road, admiring the new King Cakes the baker had just put out for Mardi Gras. “Don’t they look nice,” the elderly lady said, as she leaned on her buggy next to her husband “There they are,” I said. “Lent is just around the corner. Shrove Tuesday and Ash Wednesday will be here before we know it.” The three of us chuckled as we walked on. “So what are you giving up this year?” she asked me. “Not a thing,” I said. “I don’t plan on giving up anything. But, there’s a great deal that I think I can take on.”
Lent is such a wonderful time of year. The weather just starts to get warmer, and then the Church brings itself into a much more penitential frame of mind. We enter into a time of prayer, intentional disciplines, and reflection on the life, trials, and suffering of Christ as the world around us begins to put out Spring and Summer clothes-bathing suits, even! Ah, the paradoxes of practicing our faith in the world today!
In recent years, I have shared conversations with friends and clergy colleagues as we pondered together what we were going to give up for Lent. “Chocolate,” some said. The lists were long: sweets, alcohol, beef, meat in general, lying, gossiping….self-loathing. There is something quite profound about taking on the discipline of self-restraint, of entering into a prayerful space in which we choose to take ourselves into a space of scarcity, as we reflect on the deeper meanings of Christ’s saving life and death in our lives. A little bit of discomfort seems to help us focus our attention. Many of you in the parish no doubt have your own years-long disciplines and Lenten practices, and they have been very meaningful to you, transformative even.
There is a comparable practice in Lent that I think we could explore as a parish this year. For the past few weeks, we have reflected together on the deep resonances of prayer within community, of practicing our faith together, of exploring Benedictine and monastic practices that nurture, challenge and enrich our faith as a spiritual community. To that end, I am inviting our entire parish into a time of focused prayer, using the Benedictine spiritual framework as our continued spiritual growth as Grace Church.
In the Benedictine tradition, there are (among others) three pivotal aspects which ground the community: obedience, stability, and conversion of life. With obedience, we practice our deep listening-both to one another and to the Spirit which continues to guide us and give us direction. With stability, we explore more of what it means to appreciate our common life, reflecting on our shared reality as a parish community. We are grounded here, together, and we share our experience of faith in this particular place. With conversion of life, we begin to wonder how the Presence of Christ continues to draw us closer to the fulfillment of God’s dream for our lives. How are we being transformed as followers of Jesus Christ today?
We have an amazing opportunity to explore these aspects of our common life more fully during Lent. Already, we are sharing conversation with one another in our Listening Circles, in Sunday School classes, with youth and children-and in remarkable grocery store conversations! I would invite us to take a next step during Lent. Already we are drawing together more closely as a parish community.
On every weekday in Lent, Monday to Friday, we will have Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer available to the parish. I will work to be present as much as I can, and I would love to gather a team of leaders as well, as we share in praying the ancient tradition of the Divine Office. We will meet at 9:00 AM and 5:30 PM. I know that no one can attend each one, with children, work schedules, doctor visits, and daily life. The point is not to add another obligation; instead, I am inviting us to consider how we can hallow time in our lives. Even if you cannot come to the parish at all, what would it be like to set the alarm on your phone and read a few prayers when it beeps? And, what would it be like to share your thoughts on our parish blog? How could this shared experience bring us even closer as a parish community?
As well, on Sunday mornings, we will have a chance to explore Holy Eucharist with incense, chants, and prayers….all focusing more intentionally on our own preparation and spiritual journey during Lent.
To help us in our reflection, I commend to you Sister Joan Chittister’s wonderful book Wisdom Distilled from the Daily: Living the Rule of St. Benedict Today. Sister Joan offers us a wonderful tool to help in our reflection and spiritual practice. (If you are not able to purchase a copy, please let me know. I will purchase some and have them on hand.) There are no reading “assignments” each week, only the invitation to delve deeply into Sister Joan’s language and images, wondering what it might mean to more fully practice our faith in the midst of everyday life.
There is no need to offer an overly-complicated Lenten program this year. We have all the richness and possibilities of prayer we need-right here in our own Tradition. I have a sneaking suspicion that, by spending six weeks together exploring Benedictine spirituality, our parish community will experience even more of a remarkable transformation. We have an amazing parish community! And, I am so very grateful for each one of you and the opportunity we have to share this life of common prayer.