Forty Days of Repentance, Plus Meditation

Yet even now, says the LORD, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, and weeping, and mourning; Rend your hearts, not your garments, and return to the LORD, your God. For gracious and merciful is he, slow to anger, rich in kindness, and relenting in punishment.  –  Joel 2:12-13

The Lenten season is here again, and I’ve been looking forward to it.

Yes, I have. Stop laughing.

In the four years I’ve been actively observing Lent, I’ve found it does me good to step things up a notch during these days leading up to the Easter celebration. It’s an opportunity to take inventory of my life and reinforce some spiritual disciplines I don’t want to become too casual about: repentance, prayer, fasting, reading, and charity. The reading is focused on the Scriptures, of course, but also includes foundational works on theology and daily life from our Christian heritage, because I didn’t learn a lot in Sunday School about the history of my faith between 70 A.D. and 1920. That’s a lot of catching-up to do.

I try to include a focus area as part of my Lenten activities, and this year, it’s meditation. I’m not talking about the spurious, New-Agey, mind-emptying, breath controlled, mystical stuff here, but rather a sort of down-shift in my reading habits, taking time to savor and ponder what I’ve read and allow the Holy Spirit to guide my understanding. Too often, I dash through daily Scripture readings as if I’m ticking boxes on a checklist: Old Testament, Psalms, Gospel, check, check, check. A quick prayer, and then I’m off to all the Very Important Things I need to do today.

In previous years, we’ve not done much with Lent as a family beyond providing mutual support for our individual fasts, but this time, we’re trying to approach it more in the way we observe Advent, with some time spent in reading, prayer, and discussion together each day. Resources we’re using include:

Creighton University’s Praying Lent website, a treasure-trove of information about Lent, with daily Bible readings, guided reflections, prayers, and references for further reading and related enrichment activities. It’s a Catholic site, but it concentrates on Christian themes that transcend Protestant and Catholic disagreements, and I think it’s useful for just about anybody.

The Christian Classics Ethereal Library, my go-to site for anything about Church History and all the stuff you won’t find at the local Lifeway bookstore, in a variety of electronic formats, almost all free. It’s like Project Gutenberg for Christians. Check it out.

Ashes to Fire, a print devotional and journal that offers a daily regimen of Scripture reading from Ash Wednesday to Pentecost, based on the seasonal calendar from The Book of Common Prayer, and interspersed with inspirational quotations and prayers, most from the Wesleyan tradition. Our church is using this to guide our corporate journey through Lent. Extended reflections set the tone for each week and serve as a foundation for group or family discussion. Space is provided to record personal insights and observations. Copies can be purchased at www.ashestofire.com, and include a CD with original music helpful to establishing an environment of contemplation and worship.

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