The forty day period of Lent is traditionally a time when we strengthen our spiritual lives so that we are more able to experience the joy of Easter Day. It used to be a time when people made extreme sacrifices. Christians would give up some pleasant aspect of their lives, and for forty days they ate no rich foods, no meat, cheese, eggs or milk. Fish and bread were the main staples of their diet. Parties and music and joyful occasions, even weddings, were postponed until after Easter. These sacrifices were made as a sign of respect and remembrance for Christ's sacrifice on the cross.
Such extreme sacrifices are seldom done now, and we Presbyterians don't do much of that because John Calvin, our Reformed guide to theology, thought it more important to remember that it is not our sacrifice and our efforts that make us worthy of God's love, but rather the one time sacrifice of Christ, and it is more important to focus on his victory over sin rather than on our own meager efforts.
Yet there is personal value in taking on some new spiritual disciplines during the forty days of Lent as a way of enlarging our souls, strengthening our faith and growing closer to Christ.
Poet Ann Weems says:
Lent is a time to take the time
to let the power of our faith story take hold of us;
a time to let the events
get up and walk around in us,
a time to intensify
our living unto Christ,
a time to touch His robe
and feel the healing surge through us.
Lent is a time to allow a fresh new taste of God
One way to experience "a fresh new taste of God" might be to perhaps try a new form of prayer. God has provided us with one source of prayers in the Psalms. For centuries, Christians have begun the day with a time of reading the psalms. Many people read through the psalms regularly every month. It is a very interesting way to begin one's day. There are 150 Psalms, and if we divide that by thirty days we find that in order to pray through the psalms in a month we need to read about five of them each day.
If you have never tried this discipline I recommend it. The first time I did it, I was amazed at how relevant the psalms of the day were to the situations I was facing that day. I always found some phrase or feeling that resonated with me at a deep level.
Theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer once wrote some suggestions about our prayer time. The article was titled, "Introduction to Meditation." Bonnhoefer is probably best known as the young German Christian theologian whose resistance to National Socialism led eventually to his death in a Nazi prison camp just before the end of World War II.
Bonhoeffer suggests an early morning time of prayer and meditation, "Every morning lay upon God everything that occupies you and troubles you, before fresh burdens are laid upon you. Ask yourself what is still preventing you from following him completely and let him be Lord over it before new hindrances come your way."
He advises, "Begin meditating on a text of Scripture with a prayer for the Holy Spirit and for quieting the mind. Then simply read over the text letting it imprint itself on your mind. If your thoughts stray to people near to you or those about whom you are concerned, then this is the right time for specific prayers of intercession for the people the Lord has raised to your mind.
"We may never give up this daily concern with prayer and Scripture," says Bonhoeffer, "and we must begin it straightway if we have not already done so. For it is there that we find eternal life."
My prayer for all of us during this season of Lent 2018 is that each of us may find the time for deeper prayer and meditation so that when we come to Easter we all may experience the joy of resurrection in our spirit.
Pastor Nancy Becker