Lent began Wednesday. After a day of merriment down in New Orleans that I've always found as strange as the practice which follows it, we come to this season of the church calendar called Lent. Let me tell you my attitude toward Lent for those of you who haven't heard me every year ad nauseum. The forty-days prior to Holy Week, culminating in the trial, conviction on trumped-up charges, Gethsemane, the cross-carrying walk to Golgotha, and finally Jesus' crucifixion, is considered a season of leanness, so to speak, by the church. People traditionally give up something to signify their allegiance to the Incarnate. Over my Christian life, such things have included chocolate, sugar, candy (see a theme here?), alcohol, and other foods. I have personally given up novels, reading in general, bread (I'm not that much of a sweet person), and coffee. And, to a certain extent, this practice is a beautiful expression of our devotion to Christ, a way of daily acknowledging that we belong not to the world, but to Him.
However, several years ago, I began to think differently about the practice. It occurred to me that the if the yearly calendar Christians follow which leads to the climax of Resurrection Sunday follows the life of Jesus, then the forty days prior to Holy week would symbolically represent His earthly ministry. If this is so, it's the fullness of presence we should be practicing rather than the asceticism of denial. This means contemplation (which is asceticism, of course), yes, but contemplation on His ministry, and His presence with us. So rather than simply giving up something for the sake of its absence from my life, what could I do to create a stronger sense of His daily presence with me? Does this make sense?
On the other hand, to carry my thinking to its conclusion, I began to think of Advent as the season in the calendar year when, by its nature of waiting for God to come to earth as a human, when I live with Christ's absence. Advent is the time to give up something important to me so that I'm daily aware of its absence the way, in all the centuries before, the world had lived with the absence of the Incarnate. Are you following my thinking?
This means I've changed my yearly practices. I've given up my tea and bread and reading novels and TV and whatever else He puts on my heart in December, while doing something more devotional in Lent--which may or may not involve giving up of something.
This year, what God and I have come up with together for Lent comes from a sense that solitude has been lacking in my life. I am convinced that part of the trouble with our world is that we are too plugged in to technology. While I'm grateful for the ability to 'talk' to my children via all these means, particularly the one least prone to speak via phone, I wonder if the so many ways to communicate with others mean that we become distracted by the cacophony of voices going on all the time. The Psalmist tells us, "Be still and know that I am God." And the most familiar of Psalms speaks of His leading ups 'beside the still waters,' and causing us to lie down--to rest--in green pastures. This is where/how He restores us. In Isaiah 30:15 is one of my favorite verses about quietness: In quietness and trust is your strength." It seems that there is an equation between quietness and trust which results in strength.
And I've been missing that quietness. I'm as guilty as anyone. Yes, I spend time with the Lord. But too often--far too often--I walk away from that time, plug myself in, so to speak, and don't look back. I pick up my phone as I pick up my glasses and watch each morning--so I can see, know the time, and 'be in constant radio contact,' as Beve likes to say. Then I almost immediately check my computer. What's so important, I don't know. Why I feel the need to spend hours with it open is baffling. So this is my forty-days of His presence decision. My computer is a tool for this blog. The end. I will open it, write what He gives me to say, and put it away. That's it. An occasional check of my emails, perhaps ( if someone really needs me, they can find me), but what has been dedicated to the world and its insidious pull, I give to Christ and His presence. More time in silence. Simply being, simply still and allowing Him to speak. I believe--I am convinced--that His voice will be louder when all the other voices are not there. And that, my friends, is my hope. My joy and my crown, and Paul puts it.
I do understand the practice of giving up something during these days (which, of course, I am also doing). But I challenge you to add to what you're removing from your life an extra measure of time with Him, while He's symbolically here, if you know what I mean. Let's practice the presence of Christ together this Lenten season, shall we?