Lent has always been a part of my spiritual life, but I don't think I ever got a very good understanding of it. For the longest time, Lent was when we draped stuff in purple (yay Lutherans!) and talked about "giving up" things. Chocolate, sodas, and TV were popular choices. Note: I think my lack of understanding probably had more to do with my not paying attention than it did an improper or inadequate theological upbringing.
Turns out there's more to lent than just swearing off candy for a while and then giving up three days in. The Anglicans (and the Catholics, which, duh) talk about focusing on three spiritual practices during lent: fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. These are three areas of spiritual growth that I think are pretty important for any devout Christian (of any traditional persuasion). We should pray, that's a given. Fasting is something that we maybe don't think about very often but in general is seen as something that "is done" from time to time. And almsgiving -- giving your money to causes -- is certainly not an unfamiliar topic to the churched.
This lent, as I start to take on some of the spiritual practices of the liturgical year, I am thinking about how to incorporate these three lenten teachings into my day. I do a lot of conversational praying as I go about my regular business (generally of the "help, thanks wow" variety, and most frequently of a "helphelphelphelphelp me please!!!" or "thankyouthankyouthankyou" bent) but sitting down and praying is not really something that is a part of my life right now. Prayer, for what it is, is maybe not too difficult of a practice to incorporate, at least in theory.
Almsgiving is similarly pretty easy to figure out. We live with such abundance in this society, and how many of us never even realize it? My income technically puts me below the poverty line, but I am still astounded every day by the ease of my life, the abundance I have, the good fortune I so easily take for granted. Alms is kind of a funny word, not one that we hear or use all too often outside of Ash Wednesday services, but the concept of giving to those less fortunate is not unfamiliar and it's not too tough to figure out. I regularly donate my excess stuff to Goodwill and I tithe to my church and another ministry, but I'm sure there's more I can do. The tzedakah box my mom brought back from Israel for Gabriel is currently sitting on my kitchen table with my bible, lent book, and candle, and I'm pondering how I might be able to combine the tzedakah tradition of Judaism with the lenten practice of almsgiving in a way that makes sense for my situation and will be teachable in the coming years.
Fasting...yikes. Nobody wants to talk about fasting, right? We used to refer to giving up chocolate (or whatever) for lent as a fast, but I don't really think that's what the church founders had in mind. Any significant fasting in the not-eating-anything-all-day sense is probably not feasible for this nursing mama, but I am poking around for thoughts on fasting a meal here and there, or maybe doing the no-meat-Fridays thing or something like that.
So. Prayer, fasting, almsgiving. These are what's been on my mind lately. They're adding up for a new, rich, deeper take on lent this year, and it's been really cool to move into this season.
Do you do anything different to mark the days of lent? Do you think there's merit to participating in these old traditions?