Time for Growth

March is usually characterized for us by vacations, freakish weather, and basketball tournaments. Will it also be characterized for us by lent? Lent is a season when, guided by Jesus’ example of forty days in the wilderness, we adopt a spiritual discipline (such as fasting, as Jesus did) and struggle with the temptations which confront us. It is a season in life when some of us give up some element of our lives as a sacrificial discipline. Many of us examine ourselves and ask, as we did this past Ash Wednesday, “What do I want to burn away from my life? Some think of bad habits or luxuries we’ve grown too accustomed to, and decide to practice going without.
I’ve found that my Lenten disciplines are more effective and have the potential for long lasting change in my own behavior if I also think of some positive action or thought and replace the negative with the positive. When my mind turns to the old thought or practice I am asking God to help me abandon for at least a season of discipline, I’ve found it empowering to simply pray, “With your help God, I can….” Followed by the name of that thought or practice you are attempting to abstain from during Lent. Also important is replacing the “time spent” typically on that previous thought or action, and fill it with time spent in devotion or practicing our discipleship.
Here are some ideas:
Fasting: (from food, alcohol, internet sites, one meal, snacks, candy, tobacco, television, internet sites, or anything else that, the abstention of which would be uncomfortable enough to cause us to question: why does “x” give me comfort in the first place?)
Pilgrimage: a way God answers that yearning to physically travel to discover God and the truths about ourselves. By going to a specific place where God and God’s own have moved mightily in the past, it sinks in that God really does exist, and really is at work among us. Trusting that, we can search for (and be eager for) what God is doing within us right now.
Sabbath: Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel said that Sabbath is a “cathedral in time.” It is a time of rest that is foundational (some would say, “the foundation”) of our faith. Perhaps being more intentional about it during Lent might help us make it more a foundation of our lives. Turn off your cell-phone, unplug yourself from all the trappings of our modern world, and just breathe, see, smell, hear, taste, and feel.
Scripture Study: there are numerous ways to “dig in” to the rich soil of scripture. Some are fairly straight forward (read or listen to it daily) others, such as Lectio Divina or Midrash take a little bit of explanation. Try a variety of practices—it is more likely to “stick” as a practice through the 40 days of Lent that way. Look at the church website for ideas.
The Examen: this is a daily practice formed by Ignatius of Loyola, the founder of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits). It is a practice of lighting a candle or some other method of quieting the mind and opening to God’s presence, then reflecting on the day’s events (perhaps thinking to oneself what the most luminous or satisfying part of the day was and then identifying the least satisfying or luminous part of the day).
Daily Devotional Reading: For some, the easiest way to set aside time with God is by reading the thoughts of others who have been attentive to the spiritual life. We have an excellent resource in the Upper Room devotionals, available for free in front of the church office, and there are also daily devotionals in our church library (some of which have been culled from the stacks by your pastor and placed in the white rack in front of the library.) Don’t forget to sign them out!
Midrash: Midrash expands on the text of the Scripture to provide anecdotes that “fill in the gaps. I have found the reading and writing of Midrash to be a helpful exercise to really dig into the story and personality of the characters in the Bible.  I posted an example a couple weeks ago on the church facebook page–check it out.
I hope Lent is a cathedral in time for you. If you need any guidance in deepening your walk of faith, that is why I am here.