“God, deliver me from gloomy saints.” – - Saint Teresa of Avila
We’ll it is here, my least favorite season of the liturgical year. As I have mentioned before I do not do well, at the same time it is something that I need to commit myself to observing for the sake of actually wanting a better spiritual life that is not simply a way to make me feel better about life but help me more fully to love and serve God my neighbor with an attitude of thanksgiving and joy.
Those who know me know that such is not an easy task and that for me no matter how hard I have tried Lent has always been painful. By the end of Lent I am thankful for Easter not simply because of the resurrection and the promise of redemption, but frankly because I was glad that Lent was over. In my early days as a Priest I tried to out do others on Lent doing not just Friday but Wednesday as meatless. I have even tried doing opposite of what I was doing and hope that it would work. Last year in the midst of my spiritual crisis I tried to go extra-lean on Lent and that didn’t help either. Perhaps that was due to my overall poor emotional, physical and spiritual condition as I was trying to climb out of the abyss of PTSD but still, Lent was not very productive for me no matter what I did.
So this year I’m going to be a good Anglican and find the via media where I actually gain some spiritual benefit, give up something that I can actually succeed at giving up for Lent and add or increase some spiritual discipline that I can succeed at doing not just for Lent but in real life too. I realize that I can’t overdo it or I will simply give up when something keeps me from doing it and the same time I need to do something not too difficult but not so easy as to be meaningless. The goal is to have a meaningful Lent that actually does me some spiritual good while not becoming any more of a pain in the ass to the people around me that have to endure me.
Today was Ash Wednesday and I had the responsibility for conducting the Protestant service which for me comes straight out of the Book of Common Prayer. The Gospel lesson from Matthew chapter 6 was Jesus telling folks how to fast not be idiots about it, in other words to “Steveicize” the language Jesus wants his followers to be able to and pray without drawing attention to ourselves and actually look happy about it. I figure and I assume that Jesus figured out that there were too many gloomy religious people around and that the disciples needed to get a life before he sent them out into the world; of course just like me and maybe you too made plenty of mistakes and at times made a mess of things in their time with Jesus and even after. The disciples who with the exception of Judas who got hung up on the details all became Apostles still all finished well and most got schwacked by the Romans or others displeased with their message.
So with this in mind here are a few hints on how to get through Lent, not that I have been successful at doing this but figure that through my failures I might have a few insights in how to navigate the often treacherous season of Lent.
First there are the spiritual disciplines, like starting simple, go to church, pray every day, even if it is something short and sweet. If you are a superstar Christian you can go onward and upward using spiritual steroids to improve your performance but I’m not there yet, I just use spiritual steroids to help my soul heal faster. As Saint Bernard of Clairvaux said:
“Wherever…thou shalt be, pray secretly within thyself. If thou shalt be far from a house of prayer, give not thyself trouble to seek for one, for thou thyself art a sanctuary designed for prayer. If thou shalt be in bed, or in any other place, pray there; thy temple is there.”
Now to what to give up: Most of the time for Americans this involved food, particularly meat on Friday’s and sometimes other things. I’ve heard of people giving up chocolate or certain delicacies but most of the time it is meatless Fridays and sometimes Wednesdays and there have been some that I have met who have gone on 40 days fasts during Lent. I can get the meatless Fridays and I am going to give up something that I love that I don’t eat much of normally, like maybe once a week after successful weigh-ins, but really enjoy…I mean really enjoy, the Gordon Biersch Cheeseburger cooked medium rare with everything on it and Garlic Fries on the side. Since there is not a lot else for me to give up being on the Fat Boy program, that once a week treat will be a sacrifice.
Now since I tend not too eat most things that swim in their own toilet such as fish the whole deal of fish on Friday is something that I don’t observe…now I still go meatless but find alternative ways to do it. In the past I have done bean burritos, meatless salads, meatless pasta usually with a Marinara sauce, pizza with tomatoes, garlic, olives and mushrooms, or something simple like red or black beans and rice, vegetable soup, pea soup, black bean soup and other things like that. This makes meatless doable. One year though I had to suffer for Jesus on the USS Hue City as Friday was “surf and turf.” Since the turf was definitely out for Lent I had to make due with Alaskan King Crab or lobster tails. That was difficult but I did survive.
I think one of the things that I missed during previous Lenten seasons was the grace of God, somehow in trying to jump through all the Lenten hoops I became so fixated on the actions that I forgot to experience the love of God and the joy that comes with that. This year will be all about that process and discovering the joy in life that has been coming back to me after my “Christmas miracle.”
Martin Luther the German reformer wrote something very appropriate about how to approach Lent,a s well as the rest of the Christian life which I think is pretty profound as Lutehr sees the process of the Christian life:
“‘Be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind (Rom. 12:2).’ In this way the Apostle describes (Christian) progress; for he addresses those who already are Christians. The Christian life does not mean to stand still, but to move from that which is good to that which is better. St. Bernard (of Clairvaux) rightly says: ‘As soon as you do not desire to become better, then you have ceased to be good.’ It does not help a tree to have green leaves and flowers if it does not bear fruit beside its flowers. For this reason – (for not bearing fruit) – many (nominal Christians) perish in their flowering. Man (the Christian) is always in the condition of nakedness, always in the state of becoming, always in the state of potentiality, always in the condition of activity. He is always a sinner, but also always repentant and so always righteous. We are in part sinners, and in part righteous, and so nothing else than penitents. No one is so good as that he could not become better; no one is so evil, as that he could not become worse.’” (Commentary on Romans, by Martin Luther, Translated by J. T. Mueller, Kregel Publications, Grand Rapid MI 49501, reprinted 1976, page 167-168.)
On a side note one cool thing about this Lent is that it is happening about as early in the year as it can, thus it will not affect the baseball season as opening day at Harbor Park is the week following Easter. So anyway with all of this in mind I bid you a blessed Lent and hope and pray that you will come to experience the love of God in a special way this year that impacts you and those around you. Pray for me a sinner.
Peace, Padre Steve+