Lent for life?
By DAVID WHITLOCK
Wednesday was Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent. If all has gone as planned, I will have arrived at the Abby of Gethsemani 22 miles from my home, by 5:45 a.m., to pray and meditate, and receive ashes. The monks there at the abby are of the Order of Cistercians of the Strict Observance, and though a few of them know me by name, they’ve always warmly welcomed me; never considering my Protestant convictions as a barrier between us.
Before having arrived at Gethsemani, I will have spent time meditating on God’s word, just as I do every morning. But on this day, my intention is also to read some words from the man who wrote “the monastic playbook.” His name is Benedict, better known to most people as St. Benedict, the founder of Western monasticism, who lived from about 480 A.D. to about 550 A.D. His book is named, “The Rule of St. Benedict.” Benedict created it to provide guidance to the monks who were willing to follow his path.
In chapter 49, Benedict wrote some things about Lent that draw me in, and these are the words I had planned to read earlier this morning.
“The life of a monk ought always to be a continuous Lent.”
Okay, so neither you nor I are monks; don’t get fixated on that, but instead focus on the second half of that sentence. It can apply to you and me, especially if you are participating in Lent. Lent is a 40-day picture of who we are to be, and what we are to do during any “average” day of our walk with Christ. That would include prayers, fasting and giving back. I know, that sounds impractical, maybe even impossible and burdensome.
St. Benedict recognized that, for in the very next sentence, he said, “Since few, however, have the strength for this…” In saying that, St. Benedict is presumably acknowledging that we are, “dust,” still subject to our human appetites, our weaknesses and our proneness to wander.
Yet, he still raises the standard: “During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink…sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.”
Before you flinch too quickly at “abstinence from food and drink,” Benedict wasn’t advocating a total fast of all food and water for 40 days, but rather, fasting at certain times and on particular days, with the consultation of the Abbot.
Lent is an indication of how we should be living the Christian life all the time: a disciplined walk with Christ, giving up whatever encumbers us from running the race as we should and joyously awaiting the return of our Lord.
So, we determine to dive “all in,” to the spiritual life, giving up some things we normally do, so that we can take in more of another nature. In the process, we at least begin to pry ourselves free from the bondages that tie us so tightly to our earthly existence — the jealousies, the anger, the hatred, the lusts, the indulgences — all those habits that if left unchecked, will become our way of life, causing spiritual amnesia to creep in, until we no longer remember who we really are. So, we determine to back away from them, step by step, hoping to experience the freedom of flying free from those things — rising high above them — where we can soar effortlessly in the spiritual stratosphere, like the eagles we were created to be.
By the time you read this, I hope to have breathed in the fresh air at Gethsemani, taking some of the disciplines of Lent I observe there back home, where I will pray more intently, read God’s word more attentively, and work more joyously — all to the glory of God.
And who knows?
Maybe I’ll just keep on observing Lent for life.