Writing a book reminds me of how taxing writing actually is. Imagine intense therapy sessions every day...with the end being everyone gets to read what you're writing. So now, after a time away from writing, Lent seems a good begin-again point, with some suggestions about disciplines for Lent.
I think Lenten disciplines are important. They remind us we are in a particular season that asks something different of us. Lent is a season of shifts, of digging deeper, and of change. We become witnesses to Christ. Witnesses first see and encounter something. Lent invites us to encounter God in our deepest selves, especially those parts of our selves and souls we'd rather not admit were there...say, the parts of us that act a certain way to get accolades and attention, for example, that Jesus speaks to in Matthew. Witnesses allow what they've seen to impact them, change them, and move them. Then, after that has happened, and only then, do we proclaim.
Lent is a time for inner work, for preparing ourselves to proclaim the victory of love and the power of Resurrection at Easter. Yet we can't fully proclaim either of those until we ourselves have allowed God to transform our interior lives. We must do the work of becoming witnesses.
This list of Lenten disciplines centers around interior transformation. Pick one or a few. Share in the comments through Lent how they are shifting you. Allow yourself to be a witness to love of neighbor.
1. Experience voices unlike yours. Too often, we are part of the choir to which people with whom we agree are preaching. What might happen to our interior assumptions and expectations if we listened to voices NOT like ours? If we're white, spend the Lenten season reading books by people of color or watching movies that focus on their experience. I commend Thirteenth and I Am Not Your Negro for starters. If you're straight, read and watch art and narratives by LGBTQ people. If you're male, read works by women and listen to their experiences. Allow yourself to be bothered, to be challenged. Explore your own prejudices. What assumptions did you have before you listened, and how have they changed?
2. Experience the reality of those who live in poverty. Far too many of our sisters and brothers in this country and world live in poverty, unable to afford healthy food, safe housing, or basic healthcare. Live on a food budget spending only what a person or family receives in food assistance. For maximum allotments, you can click here. Use public transportation in your city or town for Lent or certain day/s and witness the challenge many in our communities experience because of a lack adequate public transportation. For forty days, live on minimum wage. At the end of your experience, share - witness - what you've learned. Meet with city officials about public transportation issues. Use the money you didn't spend on food to support local food banks and lobby for the continuation of adequate food assistance from our government. I also realize for some reading this blog, these experiences are daily life. Please share your story and challenge your faith communities to act for the benefit of the poor.
3. Experience healing. We humans seem far too focused on reconciliation, which is, in some ways, one of the final aspects of the forgiveness process. To get there, we must admit we have wronged someone or been wronged, and the wrong has wounded and hurt. Where is your hurt, your wound? My experience is we focus on the person who did the wrong or inflicted the pain rather than the hurt, and we cannot change another. Focusing on the other rather than the wound leaves us stuck. I have a forthcoming post about this in more detail, but asking questions like what expectations did I have from this relationship, were these expectations reasonable to both me and the other person, and when my expectations weren't met, how did I respond are ways to shift us from the person to the hurt. When we can name the hurt, we we can offer our wounds to God, then we can begin to experience reconciliation with the person who touched or further opened our wound.
4. Experience another faith tradition. The religious literacy of most people in this country is limited. Lent is a wonderful time to experience and learn about other faith traditions. Visit a synagogue or mosque. Attend another Christian denomination. Read the holy writings of other faith traditions. For a great primer on this, explore Stephen Prothero's Religious Literacy. Further, offer yourself to experience other faith traditions not to feel superior about our own traditions, but to see the truth in their expression of God.
5. Experience silence. Most of us live in a noisy world. The television is always on. We can always check social media. The latest podcast accompanies our exercise. What happens if we disconnect and turn off, if we have substantial moments of time in our day when there is only the background noise of the wind or the neighbor's children playing. What if we're really daring and we spent an entire day, where we aren't infiltrated by outside noises? Eradicate the noise pollution in your day. Ride in the car without the radio on. Make friends with silence. If you'd like to spend that time in prayer...great! If you'd rather walk around your neighborhood, clean the house, or read a book, that works, as well. Give your ears time to listen to your own self and soul.
6. Experience yourself. The introvert readers of this post will be very excited about this one, but what would a regular time alone be like as a Lenten discipline? Take yourself to lunch by yourself once a week. Go to the movies alone during Lent. Explore a museum alone. Let God be with you. Explore your feelings of being alone. Often, we fear being alone because in being alone, we create space for the feelings with which we're uncomfortable to surface. What feelings might we be trying to avoid by populating our time with others? Take a journal during your alone time and write or draw your thoughts and feelings.
7. Experience generosity. How many of us have stuff we could share, including our own talents? Use Lent to part with clothing in good condition, especially coats, that you really are never going to wear again. Donate books to your local library book sale. Pare down your kitchen and donate items to organizations that resettles refugees. Keep bags of non-perishable food in your car to give to homeless people you encounter (socks are also a good addition). Donate supplies to local schools. Be excessively generous with a monetary donation to a local food bank, homeless shelter, refugee and immigrant agency, or any number of organizations helping those in need. Volunteer your own time and talents to one of those agencies for an hour or so a week. Walk through your neighborhood and pick up trash. Be generous with your time and yourself during Lent.