Every year as we arrive at Lent, we are encouraged to fast by choosing something we hold dear to give up. We tend to narrow our focus to this part of this season's discipline, but the practices we are called to in Lent are so much broader. At the Ash Wednesday service, the celebrant invites the community into this solemn season with the following words:
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word. (BCP 265)
Fasting in the form of giving something up is only one practice among others. In last week's reflection, Rev. Nancy wrote about the practice of self-examination and repentance in the rite of Reconciliation. This week, I thought I would share with you some of the ways we can center our lives around prayer and reading and meditating on God's holy Word this Lent.
Prayer can take many forms from bringing the needs of others to God through intercessions, to repeating a phrase continuously, to making or listening to music, or to just sitting silently in the presence of the divine. One practice that I find helpful in my own prayer life is using candles. To set up this practice, I purchased a big glass bowl from Target and filled it with aquarium sand from a pet store. For prayer, I use beeswax taper candles that I get from an Orthodox convent in Brookline. I normally begin my spiritual practice with lighting a candle for each person or situation that is on my heart and allow the candle to hold that thought for me as I transition into a more contemplative space. Normally the candles burn longer than my practice and they serve as a reminder to me. Whenever I turn and see them illuminating their corner of the room, I offer up another quick prayer for each of those people or situations represented by a candle.
Another way to pray is through art, specifically using icons. Icons are a traditional way to focus our attention on God through engaging our sense of sight. It is not that we pray to the icon, but that we use it as a tool to attune our heart to the sacred. To begin a prayer practice with icons, whether you are just surrounding yourself with them for inspiration or using them as a focusing tool, I recommend beginning an icon of Christ that speaks to you or draws your imagination. There are many places to purchase icons and a few that I would recommend are Monastery Icons, Uncut Mountain Supply, and Kelly Lattimore Icons. If you would like to learn more about praying with icons, I recommend beginning with Carl McColman's brief introduction.
Sometimes "reading and meditating on God's holy Word" can sound like an incredibly onerous task, but it does not need to be, especially in this age of technology. If a short and simple daily reflection sounds appealing, I would recommend the Church of England's Reflections for Daily Prayer which can be found on Google Play and the Apple App Store. If you are on Instagram, you can follow our new Assistant Bishop, the Rt. Rev. Carol Gallagher, who offers a different reflection every day and you can also find these on her blog. You can explore the Lord's Prayer alongside the brothers of the Society of Saint John the Evangelist with their offering for this Lent and join them in praying the daily offices they stream on their YouTube channel.
The season of Lent is not just about giving something up, but also about taking something on. Hopefully, what we give up creates more room in our lives for the sacred and when we crave what we no longer have, we are reminded of our need for God. This Lent I pray that we may more fully live into the invitation issued to us on Ash Wednesday: that these forty days are not limited to self-denial but offer us a richness through prayer, repentance, and a daily exploration of God's word.