How can I keep Lent
In the 40 days of Lent we are invited to undertake a period of self-emptying and reflection, to call a temporary halt to some of our more automatic functions and habits, to see and taste the world from a different perspective. We do this through fasting, prayer and acts of love and compassion. It is a time of drawing closer to Jesus, who spent 40 days in the Judean wilderness and who walked the path of the cross. Yet in the strange paradox that is faith, and as he himself said: 'my yoke is easy and my burden is light'. Lent is about letting go and travelling lighter. How will you keep the fast this year?
During Lent we try and make more space in our lives for prayer (and study), perhaps by giving up watching TV or Netflix.
Prayer is like an ocean, there is so much depth and expanse to it. It can be sitting in silence, indoors or out, in a state of attentive listening and letting go.
It can use a short phrase or simple words to act as an anchor for the unruly mind - the classic prayer being: Lord have mercy...
In can be embodied through using a prayer rope, rosary or by simple prostrations.
It can involve songs and chants
It can be the cultivation of gratitude and thankfulness for our blessings, however small.
It can be honest self-observation and owning our issues.
It can be praise and thanksgiving to God who has called all things into being, the amazing realm of nature and the human mind.
Prayer can be long or short, an hour or 5 minutes. What matters is to pray...
The best study is always prayerful - a form of meditation. It is best to read a small amount of text daily and let it percolate through you.
There are many resources that can help, see the 'Watch and Pray' box next to this, including 'Tarry Awhile' by Selina Stone and also
'Lent with the Beloved Disciple' by Michael Marshall and 'Transfiguration: 50 Pilgrim Steps' by Rob Marshall.
If you are interested in Christian mystical or contemplative prayer you might want to get hodl of a copy of John Anthony McGuckin's: 'Book of Mystical Chapters'
What is Lent
Lent is the 40 day period (more or less) of preparing for Easter. It begins on Ash Wednesday and ends in Holy Week, building up to the climax of the three holiest days, from the evening of Holy Thursday to dawn on Easter Sunday. It is a time when people prepare for baptism, for spiritual renewal and going deeper.
The traditional Lenten fast is to adopt a vegan diet (no meat, fish or dairy and definitely no sweets!). Given the urgent need for us all to reduce our consumption of meat and dairy what better opportunity to explore what this would be like!
For examples of really good and nutritious fasting food from Greece and the Middle East
Nistisima by Georgina Hayden
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
Watch and Pray
This Lent we are encouraged to wait expectantly for God to meet us and sustain us through the storms and trials we all face.
The Church of England’s Lent theme for 2024 is Watch and Pray: Wisdom and hope for Lent and life.
On the night he was betrayed, Jesus kneels in darkness in the Garden of Gethsemane. Though he pleads with his disciples, “Stay here with me … Watch and pray,” they all fall asleep, leaving him alone in his hour of deepest suffering.
This Lent all of us are encouraged to draw on the wisdom of Black Spirituality, particularly the practice of “tarrying” (waiting) as a community to draw closer to Jesus and to each other. Combining exuberant singing, fervent prayer and quiet lament, such services typically take place at night and last somewhat longer than the “one hour” Jesus asked of those first followers.
This year’s resources have been inspired and informed by the 2024 Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent book, Tarry Awhile: Wisdom from Black Spirituality for people of faith by Selina Stone (SPCK).
The daily reflections booklet for adults (CHP) exploring the same themes has been written by Carlton Turner, and there is also a daily challenge booklet for children and families (CHP).
Watch and Pray invites us to seek God in both familiar and unfamiliar places this Lent: in darkness and in quiet; in movement and migration; in the healing and transforming work of the Spirit; in the weeping of Holy Week and in the joy of Easter morning.
Acts of Love and Compassion
In its most traditional form we put aside a little extra money each week to give for the relief of poverty etc. This year you might consider a donation to charities relieving suffering in Gaza and the Holy Land:
However, the only limit is your imagination. A smile, a kind word, calling someone you know is lonely all come under the same heading. Also creating more beauty in the world through art and learning how to be more compassionate with yourself.