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…
I have always, always, loved these words – spoken by the priest on Ash Wednesday to the people gathered. They begin with invitation. Always invitation. You and I are consistently, persistently, and gently invited by God into a life of relationship grounded in divine love. Never a command. Never a “should”. Always an invitation, an openness to what might be possible – if we were to say “yes”.
In the name of the Church? For me, this means that we undertake an individual private discipline which is ours alone, but given to us across time and space by all Christians who have gone before. It is our work to do, but we do this work in communion with all those who seek to be renewed in divine love.
A Holy Lent. I love this idea - that Lent, a season when we just might come smack up against our own shame and guilt, is a holy season. A season infused with the awesome fearsome divine mystery of God right in the muck and mess of our ordinary lives. Could it be not so much that holiness and godliness are buddies, but that holiness is born out of the messiness of our impoverished humanity? We enter into a Holy Lent precisely because Lent is when we are most likely to acknowledge the great divide between how we’d like to be (holy and perfect and wonderful) and how we are (broken and battered – still holy).
Christmas may be a holy night but Lent is a holy season – forty days of honesty, digging deep into the sources of the pain we cause and the pain we bear… Not to stay there, but to move forward into a daily life which is more closely aligned with the dreams of God, than with the nightmares of our own making (Thank you, dear Presiding Bishop Michael, for this lovely image)
How shall we spend this Holy Lent? In age-old and brand-new exercises of austerity. We take up an austere life for a time, not because the complexities and riches of life are “bad”, but because they can be obstacles to living as holy people of God. We fast, not because food is bad or the body should be deprived, but because focus on food can be an impediment to understanding our deepest hungers. We give alms not because we are ungenerous (although we might be) but because we need to foster confidence in God’s abundance. We engage in other acts of self-denial, not because we shouldn’t be self-aware, but to mitigate our self-centeredness. We undertake new prayer practices, not because we don’t know how to pray, but because we have forgotten the power of our words – and God’s Word. Silence. Fasting. Alms-giving. Meditation. Study. Prayer. Choose your Holy Lent wisely - God willing, we shall be transformed. Again.