The holiest three days of the Christian faith is mere hours away. The Triduum (Maundy Thursday [Holy Thursday], Good Friday, and Holy Saturday) brings to a close the Lenten Season. As a reminder, Lent is the time to repent (ask for forgiveness and change behaviors), to return to the Lord, and to make a new beginning once again. Should not the life of any Christian ought to bear the characteristics of Lent?
In the Lenten Season more than in any other we try to be realistic about who we are. We acknowledge our imperfections. We make a special effort to turn our lives around and let go of unhealthy behaviors. We take extra time to deepen our relationship with God through a spiritual discipline or through acts of charity. We become more serious about who we are as Christians, so practicing a daily Lenten-type discipline would hone our ability to follow the Lord and to take steps that would allow him to be the center of our life.
Benedict suggests that during Lent we go above and beyond what we normally do for our spiritual disciplines by adding prayers to our normal routine and by denying ourselves some food, drink, sleep, and unnecessary talking or joking around. This becomes our joyful offering to God (RB 49:1-7). In the Episcopal Ash Wednesday liturgy, each of us are invited into a holy Lent with these 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 (p. 265, 1979 Book of Common Prayer).
Fasting is an appropriate Lenten discipline that involves denying oneself a favorite snack food or beverage, unnecessary naps, or sleep, excessive talking or indulging in any behavior for pure enjoyment. (RB 49.7). Fasting is not denying yourself anything that will create a health crisis or spark an unhealthy habit.
For example, we might be able to forgo hitting the snooze alarm and use that time for prayer or to prepare a special breakfast for the family. We might choose to use this extra time to be gentler with ourselves and start each day at a slower pace. We could also reflect on our habits of speech or on our actions to determine if there is anything from which we could fast. Perhaps talking negatively about others; interrupting others or grumbling. This spiritual practice of fasting will help us look forward to Easter with joy and spiritual longing (RB 49.7). Our physical disciplines become spiritual offerings.
Fasting, therefore, is a gift to God, a free-will offering over and above what we normally do (RB 49.6). By denying ourselves something we would normally want or do, we exercise the muscles of patience and forbearance as well as hone our spiritual stamina. All these fasting practices will help us be strong enough spiritually to work through whatever life deals us. Lastly, fasting can be a time to identify with those in the world whose life is a constant, and unchosen fast. Our hunger or abstinence from certain behaviors can serve as reminders of the needs of so many in our communities.
Fasting can become a yearlong practice on certain days of the week or in certain weeks of the month. We might consider fasting when God seems distant or when we are facing a particular challenge.
In Lent Benedict adds an extra hour each day for holy reading (RB 48.14), making a total of three hours each morning. Benedict is serious about this discipline of prayerful reading and study. Benedict was sincerely concerned about the souls of his brothers and wanted to see that everything was done to help them take time with the Lord to benefit this life and the next. Holy reading is not only Scripture, but anything that feeds your soul, that helps focus your heart and habits to be more focused on the Divine. Personally, my reading tastes shift from theology to world religions, to poetry. There is no magic formula for the book topics or the authors.
While the Lenten disciplines are described in the Rule are a special practice in response to our sinfulness, the Rule also offers other ways to live a holy life by resisting evil. The vows of stability, obedience, the Benedictine practice of hospitality, and the focus of living well in community are all tools we can use in our ongoing battle to resist evil. Benedictine spirituality does not shut us off from the world and its many temptations and distractions. Instead, it helps us meet these while we retain a spiritual center in the Divine. Prayer – our own and that of others – can help us keep our center.
Read a Gospel
During Lent the Rule instructs each person to have additional time for reading (RB 48:14) and prayer (RB 49.5). As you read and pray with Scripture, you are formed and transformed on both a conscious and an unconscious level. The words reach up to your mind and affect your thoughts and actions. The words reach down into your soul and permeate your very being in hidden ways that will transform your heart.
Read a Spiritual Book
There are many wonderful and inspiring books on spirituality, the Christian life, and prayer. I have specifically included references to various authors and books throughout this series to help expand your library based on your personal interest. I have also included additional suggestions at the end of this segment, or you can ask your clergy, check libraries, and bookstores, or ask friends who share your faith outlook.
Give Up a Sin
“Weed out” those things about ourselves that get in the way of our relationship with the Divine, others, and even with ourselves. What could be given up that would make us more energized and joyful? What most gets in the way of our relationships with others? This behavior that gets in the way of relationships with others also gets in the way with our relationships with the Divine and therefore, compromises our relationships with ourselves, for it blocks not only peace but also freedom of action with a greater power. What sin blocks me most? Now give it up. Cleanse your heart and mind. Then when we find ourselves falling into the old pattern simply and gently remind ourselves that we gave that up. And move on.
Replace Complaining with Prayer
One of the most damaging things we can do to ourselves and others is murmur or complain about another person, whether silently or out loud. Benedict is adamant against grumbling and complaining:
First and foremost, there must be no word or sign of the evil of grumbling, no manifestation of it for any reason at all (RB 34.6).
Grumbling and complaining in our hearts separates us from others. Murmuring puts a chink in the links that connect us to each other and to the Divine. It simply is not constructive and destroys communities. Simply replace grumbling and complaints with the words, “Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.” By saying this phrase whenever we catch ourselves grumbling or complaining, we can stop and make s space for the Divine.
Devote Yourself to Prayer
To expand the time for prayer and to experience different types of prayer, simply add 10-15 minutes of prayer each day. Try a method of prayer that you may not normally use.
1. Prayer of Adoration
This type of prayer is focused on worshiping the Lord out of deep love, respect, and admiration. These prayers come from a place of genuine awe of who the Lord is and all that he does.
“Let them praise the name of the Lord, for his name alone is exalted; his splendor is above the earth and the heavens” (Psalm 148:13).
2. Prayer of Thanksgiving
For some, beginning each day with a prayer of thanksgiving is a habit they practice. Prayers of gratitude are prompted by an answered prayer, deliverance, recognition of how good and merciful God is, or simply because we have been given another day of life.
“Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Cry out, ‘Save us, God our Savior; gather us and deliver us from the nations, that we may give thanks to your holy name, and glory in your praise’” (1 Chronicles 16:34-35).
3. Prayer of Confession
Confessing our sins is a significant way to pray as followers of Jesus. Often, Jesus called those he interacted with to confess their sins and sin no more. In the Bible, we get a glimpse of confession prayers and many reminders that God forgives those who confess their sins.
“Then I acknowledged my sin to you and did not cover up my iniquity. I said, ‘I will confess my transgressions to the Lord.’ And you forgave the guilt of my sin” (Psalm 32:5).
4. Prayer of Vows
Praying a promise to the Lord is a prayer that we may pray when we are making a life-changing commitment that we need God’s strength, guidance, and help to fulfill. Perhaps we vow to the Lord never to drink alcohol, or to abstain from premarital sex, or to live in a certain righteous way that is pleasing to the Lord. A pledge to God, just as we see in Hannah’s vow, should be followed through, and made with great consideration and certainty.
“In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant’s misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life, and no razor will ever be used on his head’” (1 Samuel 1:10-11).
5. Prayer of Quiet Reflection
Prayers of silence draw us away from prayers filled with words, and into a place where we quiet ourselves down and reflect. These types of silent prayers provide us needed time to reflect on God’s goodness. This type of prayer is valuable to how we learn to hear from the Lord and allow him to guide our steps.
“On my bed I remember you; I think of you through the watches of the night” (Psalm 63:6).
6. Prayer for Healing
A prayer for healing is usually spoken when we seek restoration for our physical bodies, spiritual wholeness, or emotional wounds. A key component of Jesus’ earthly ministry was healing those who were physically ill. The Bible affirms that we can come to God asking for all types of healing.
“Heal me, O Lord, and I will be healed; save me and I will be saved, for you are the one I praise” (Jeremiah 17:14).
7. Prayer for Deliverance and Help
When we are facing challenges, hardships, or oppression, we find ourselves praying for deliverance and breakthrough. We say these prayers for help because God is the one who can aid us in ways no one else ever could. In the Bible, many followers of God cried out for his intervention in this type of prayer for help and deliverance.
“Then they cried out to the LORD in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress” (Psalm 107:6).
8. Prayer of Intercession
Praying for others is a crucial part of being part of the body of Christ. The Bible instructs us to pray for one another and to intercede on someone else’s behalf. In the Gospels, we read that Jesus prayed for others in his final hours before being arrested. The apostle Paul wrote of how he often kept other Christians and new believers in his prayers, as well.
“And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God. May you be strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy, giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light” (Colossians 1:9-12).
9. Prayer for Transformation
As followers of Jesus, we aim to live like him, live according to his ways, and enter a lifelong process of sanctification. Praying for this type of transformation in our hearts, minds, and lives is purposeful and we can find these types of prayers in God’s word.
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting” (Psalm 139:23-24).
10. Prayer of Blessing
Prayers of blessing are often said for visiting missionaries, or families relocating to another church, those starting a new job, or new graduates. We pray blessings over newlyweds, newborns, or even over a new house or car. Prayers of blessings are found throughout Scripture and are powerful ways to ask for God’s best to be poured out.
“And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Philippians 1:9-11).
Giving alms is a time-honored tradition. As a mark of our repentance, we take steps to share with others the gifts that the Divine has given to us, be it money or personal talents. By giving alms we reach out to others in intentional and specific ways. We share our money with the needy or our time to a worthy cause. Do something that we have not done before. Reach out beyond our normal sphere of concern and comfort.
Your invited to journal for your own edification and/or add comments to the blog feed of what worked or did not work for you when dealing with obedience. It has been an enjoyment to share Lent 2021 with you in such a sacred and holy conversation.
May you experience a Triduum that offers you a place of solace, holiness, and new life.
Chittister, Joan, O.S.B, Living the Rule Today. Erie, PA.: Benet Press, 1982
de Caussade, Jean-Pierre. The Sacrament of the Present Moment. Translated by Kitty Muggeridge. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1982.
de Waal, Esther. Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict. Collegeville, Minn.: The Liturgical Press, 1984. Reprinted 2001.
Hall, Thelma. Too Deep for Words: Rediscovering Lectio Divina. Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 1988.
Homan, Fr. Daniel, O.S.B., and Lonni Collins Pratt. Benedict’s Way: An Ancient Monk’s Insights for a Balanced Life. Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2000.
Johnston, William, ed. The Cloud of Unknowing. New York: Doubleday, 1973.
Keating, Thomas. Open Mind, Open Heart. Rockport, Mass.: Element, Inc, 1992.
Kleiner, Sighard, O.C. In the Unity of the Holy Spirit: Spiritual Talks on the Rule of Saint Benedict, Kalamazoo, Mich.: Cistercian Publications, 1989.
Lawrence, Brother. The Practice of the Presence of God. Translated by E.M. Blaiklock. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1981.
McCall Smith, Alexander. The Full Cupboard of Life. New York: Pantheon Books, 2003.
McQuiston, John II. Always We Begin Again. Harrisburg, Pa.: Morehouse Publishing, 1996.
Norris, Kathleen. The Cloister Walk. New York: Riverhead Books, 1996.
Nouwen, Henri. Reaching Out: The Three Movements of the Spiritual Life. New York: Doubleday, 1975.
Pennington, M. Basil. Centering Prayer: Renewing an Ancient Christian Prayer Form. New York: Doubleday, 1980.
Taylor, Brian C. Spirituality for Everyday Living: An Adaptation of the Rule of St. Benedict. Collegeville: The Liturgical Press, 1989.
Ware, Corinne. Saint Benedict on the Freeway. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.