Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Lenten Disciplines: Giving Up vs Taking On

Happy Shrove Tuesday, everyone! At home we always celebrate Shrove Tuesday, the day before the season of Lent begins, with a pancake supper. In the medieval church, pancakes were a way to use up all the rich foods, like butter, milk, and eggs, that would be restricted or forbidden during Lent. I’m pretty sure, however, that medieval Shrove Tuesday pancakes didn’t contain quite as many chocolate chips as the ones I just made for Drew. :) Now I’m sluggish and full and not entirely ready for Lent to start.

So here’s my question. What are you giving up for Lent? Or should I ask, what discipline are you taking on?

More often in recent years, I’ve heard people champion this idea of adding something to your spiritual practice during Lent, instead of the traditional taking something away. I get that giving things up can turn into a self-help competition, a spiritually sanctioned crash diet. Taking on a discipline can give you a chance to try something new.

Usually, though, I’ve pushed back against that. I have a tendency to add and add and add things to my life. I’ll stack up disciplines and commitments until I’m buried under them. And when I get too busy to keep a particular promise I’ve made to myself, I’ll let it slide—one by one ‘til I’ve broken them all.

Whether we end up adding or subtracting, the question is, why do we fast during Lent in the first place? Why did the early church trade tasty pancakes for sparse meatless meals? As I understand it, the tradition of fasting is supposed to remind us of our need for God. When we give things up, things that we love and depend on, we stop leaning on the things we think we need, and learn again how to lean on God. We make space for God, in a way, by clearing out part of our inward-focused lives.

Which is all to say that I’m ignoring my own advice this year, and taking on instead of giving up. For a variety of reasons—I can’t find it in my heart to fast from Facebook anymore, though I have the past few years. But that was before large chunks of my income came from writing & editing online. Networks like Facebook aren’t quite the optional luxury they used to be.

I’ve also been inspired by other suggested spiritual practices that I’ve read. Kristin Berkey-Abbott has a list of creative practices that I love—her suggestions extend past the traditional artsy ideas to the everyday creative acts that I love: baking bread, taking photographs, planting a garden. She also suggests keeping a spiritual journal, which is funnily enough one of the few writing forms I haven’t tried. This Lent, this spiritual journal is the thing I’m taking on.

I am also going to try to pray the Daily Office each day. I’ve explored this form of prayer off and on over the past year, as I’ve been trying to understand more about the Anglican tradition that raised me. (You can get a good sense of this form of daily prayer at the Mission of St. Clare's website, or as always the trusty Book of Common Prayer Online.) Some of it’s familiar; after all, the Evening Prayer service forms the backbone of Holden Evening Prayer which is near to my heart. I like it because when you take a good look, it’s mostly poetry (in the form of scripture, psalms and prayers) and because it can be as simple or as complicated as you want it to be. And the simplicity makes it easier to keep up with, and minimize slipping.

Mostly, I suppose, I want to listen. I have been flying in all different directions this year, muddling through an unscripted life, trying things at random to see if perhaps this might be what I’m called to do. If I try and take time to listen for God each day—well, maybe that is making space for God, no matter whether I am adding to or taking away from my daily routine.

The forty days of Lent are supposed to parallel the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. He entered as a fairly standard disciple of John the Baptist who’d just been hollered at by a supernatural voice—and he left as a teacher and a healer and someone who spent a lot of time on mountaintops listening for God. I wonder sometimes what he learned in the wilderness, in the parts of the story that the Bible skips over. I wonder what I will learn these forty days.


Allison said...

Margaret, I don't know what the heck I'm going to give up for Lent this year. Give me an assignment, and I'll do it. But ask me what I think I should give up for Lent? No idea!

Kristin said...

Thanks for the link! I'm happy to have discovered your blog.