Updated: Mar 5, 2019
1. Let the Biblical Narrative Form You
In spiritual formation we talk a lot about the importance of listening to God in the midst of our lived reality, and about learning to pay attention to the personal invitations of God in various seasons of our life. God speaks to us in and through our life circumstances. We are formed into His likeness by responding to the inner promptings of His Spirit in the midst of our real life. However, the liturgical church calendar invites us to be formed by the seasons of the church, which are based on the events of the Scripture and God’s salvation narrative. This provides another important channel through which God calls us to follow His lead into greater freedom and maturity.
If we only listen to God through the lens of our lived experience we can run into the risk of missing the rich gift of meditating and responding to the larger Biblical narrative in its totality. During Lent we are invited to contemplate on our sin, the separation and brokenness it causes, and God’s grace, Christ’s sacrifice, resurrection and the new life. This is the story of our life in Christ.
There are plenty of Lenten reading plans and devotionals that can be found in the libraries, book stores, or online. Many churches provide their own Lenten reflections too. If you would like to find one, see some of the resources here below this article.
2. Strengthen Your Christian Historical Roots
In our personal and congregational lives, the style of worship music, prayer practices, missional activities, or forms of sharing life together might change, whereas liturgical rhythms remain the same. In the ever changing and evolving practicing of our faith it can be easy to forget our roots and what this all really is about − Why do we do what we do, and why do we believe what we believe?
When we choose to participate in observing the rhythms of the liturgical calendar, we are intentionally reminding ourselves of the roots and pillars of our faith.
If you are like me, and you didn’t grown up going to church or were/are not part of a tradition that observes/d the liturgical year, why don’t you do some research and familiarize yourself with its rhythms and study how it correlates with the Biblical salvation narrative?
What about the rhythms of the liturgical calendar are you drawn toward? How do you want them to be part of your spiritual practice?
3. Fast! Practice Simplicity and Solitude
As simple as it sounds, try fasting. Our culture doesn’t encourage self-constraint, simplicity, or the discipline of abstaining from comforts and conveniences. Our lives are full: Full of noise, meetings, plans and projects. We are obsessed with trying to figure out how to be as effective as possible and fit in our week as much as we can. For most of us it is easier to take on something new, than let go of something familiar. I know this to certainly be true about me! Whether it is about giving up a certain habit, food or comfort, old ways stick tight. The truth though is that this is the heart of Lent. During Lent we try to push back busyness, distractions, and our disordered attachments and addictions to things and substances so that we could hear God more clearly.
Whether the practice of fasting (I am not talking about fasting from food only) is part of your spiritual life or not, Lent offers an invitation to benefit from its blessing. John the Baptist is a great example of someone who chose an ascetic life. He spent extended periods of time in the desert silence and lived a very simple lifestyle in order to hear God. Even though movements such as “zero waste”, “minimalism”, and “tiny house”, might feel like modern social media whims, they are not new by any means. People across centuries have been drawn and called to a life of simplicity in order to seek depth, sustainability and authenticity in their faith.
What can you give up, do without, or have less of, in order to rid yourself from the habit of giving into the impulses of the moment, and cultivate a keener God-awareness in your life?
4. Connect with the Larger Body of Christ
Christians around the world express their faith, and engage their spirituality in a such a wide variety of ways. It is a great richness, and also at the same time it makes it hard for practicers of other faiths to tell what Christianity teaches and what following Jesus looks like. When I lived in Amsterdam I was always very aware of the season of Ramadan (a season of fasting in Islam). Most, if not all of my Muslim friends and neighbors observed a fast during Ramadan. Yet, it is hard to find one spiritual practice that most Christians observe, even in the same geographical location!
Engaging in the celebrations and spiritual practices of the Christian liturgical calendar (such as Lent) can offer us a renewed sense of togetherness with other believers and rootedness in our faith. Liturgical rituals remind us, and the people around us, of what followers of Jesus do and believe. They unite us to the wide, diverse body of Christ globally. These are times that call us to focus on our shared beliefs and things that unite us, instead of our differences and things that pull us apart.
Why don’t you visit another church in your area for a traditional Ash Wednesday reflection, Good Friday service (many churches do special services such as “Stations of the Cross”) or Easter Sunday celebration? Or maybe you want to invite someone from another church or faith tradition to share in your way of engaging Lent?
5. Explore New Spiritual Practices
Lent is a period of 40 days that mirrors the 40 days that Jesus spent in the desert wilderness (Matthew 4). Lent is an invitation to fast and withdraw to spend intentional time listening to God. It is a wonderful opportunity to try out a new spiritual discipline and commit to practice it each day over the 40 days. Habits take time to form and a 40-day time period is a long enough time to really live and experience a different way of engaging God and see its effects. It also has a clear beginning and an end, which makes it accessible for taking up a challenge that might feel overwhelming for a long haul. What makes the practice of a new discipline even more powerful during Lent is the support and accountability that is more readily available to you from the body of other Christ followers, who too, are seeking to lean into deeper ways of meeting God in this special period of time. Sharing your intentions with others offers you the gift of encouragement of others.
You might feel a particular need, desire or invitation from God but don’t know how to engage with it. This could be a great thing to explore with your Spiritual Director or a friend. Some examples of spiritual practices are: lectio divina, breath prayer, examen, centering prayer, gratitude journal, welcoming prayer, or imaginative Scripture contemplation.
6. Get Creative & Practice Hospitality
Like every season and celebration, Lenten period is a great opportunity to be creative about the ways we mark this season. Here are just a few ideas that can trigger your creativity to think about new ways of living into this season.
Have a movie night and watch the Passion of the Christ
Participate or organize “Stations of the Cross” or “Last Words of Jesus” walk
Host an Easter Morning brunch (bake hot cross buns or traditional Italian easter pie)
Meditate on Lent & Easter themed art
Visit Easter concert or create Lent&Easter themed Spotify playlist
Create a Resurrection Garden display
Join an Easter Morning sunrise worship service
See recipes, craft ideas, and more inspiration on my Pinterest board Lent & Easter.
Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun
The Sorrowful Mysteries audio meditation
Lent Resources by Ignatian Spirituality
Lent Retreat 2019 audio retreat one session released per week over Lent by Pray-as-you-go
The Little Way of Lent Meditations in the Spirit of St. Thérèse of Lisieux by Gary Caster
Lent for Everyone: a Daily Devotional by N. T. Wright
Make Room: A Child’s Guide to Lent and Easter by Laura Alary, Illustrated by Ann Boyajian