Ash Wednesday next week marks the beginning of Lent, the 40 days of preparation for the Easter season when Christians are called to deepen their spiritual lives through the practices of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
The belief is that our consistent participation in these practices — like exercise we do for our physical health — improves our spiritual well-being by stripping away all that is unnecessary and becoming more mindful of how God is working in our lives. Challenge yourself this year and go beyond the usual practice of “giving up” something.
As we head toward the 2021 Lenten season, let’s make the most of this observance by trying some old and new practices as we deepen our faith. The following is an adaptation from 25 Great Things You Can Do for Lent by Renee Lareau. This article is on the Catholic website: www.bustedhalo.com.
Accordingly, there are some practices that are specifically Catholic that have been edited out and some have been modified. May you find these ideas exciting, uplifting, and challenging as you consider how God is leading you in this year’s Lenten practice. Not sure where to start? Check these out:
1. Try a new spiritual practice. Experience online worship at a church that’s made up of people from a different racial/ethnic group. Spend at least one hour in silent meditation each weekend.
2. Think about what you usually spend your money on. Do you buy too many clothes? Spend too much on dinner out? Pick one type of expenditure that you’ll “fast” from during Lent, and then give the money you would usually spend to a local charity.
3. Take something on — 40 days of letter writing, 40 acts of kindness, 40 phone calls to the important people in your life.
4. When you first sit down in front of your computer at work, or at the very end of your workday, try a 10-minute guided online prayer from Sacred Space (you can Google it) based on the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius.
5. Watch a weekday Lenten service on Zoom beginning with Ash Wednesday, Feb. 17th at 7:00 p.m. (Zoom and phone link coming later)
6. If you don’t have a cross in your apartment or house, buy a simple one and put it in your bedroom.
7. Instead of turning on a streaming service for your next binge-watching session, read the entire Gospel of Mark in one sitting. As the shortest Gospel, it is the most concise story of Jesus’ life, and the cross, a central Lenten symbol, plays an even more prominent role than in the other Gospels.
8. Meditate with the Stations of the Cross. Google Stations of the Cross to learn more about the stations, some of which will have visuals to take the experience even deeper.
9. Unplug from your iPhone or turn off your car radio when you travel to Burkholder’s, Walmart, or anyplace you go to. The silence may be jarring at first, but you may find that you are able to concentrate better and will be more observant of your surroundings.
10. Make use of the Lenten daily reflections (Mending Our Broken Hearts) that is being mailed to you from Grace and keep it by your bed.
11. Think about a habit that has kept you from being whom God is calling you to be. Consciously give up that habit for Lent.
12. Spend at least one weekend or evening volunteering during Lent. If you feel comfortable volunteering in person, help package meals at your local soup kitchen or stock shelves at a food pantry.
13. Make a commitment to fast from insensitive, cruel comments about others. So, no gossiping or going down the Twitter rabbit hole.
14. As a part of your Lenten almsgiving, make a point to learn more about a particular social issue (immigration, human trafficking, racism, the environment, public education, child poverty). Give money to an organization related to your chosen issue that supports the dignity of the human person.
15. Tap into your creative side and try using coloring as a way to pray and meditate during Lent. Buy a coloring book or download a Lent coloring page.
16. Use a simple dish or use the One Great Hour of Sharing* cardboard bank that is being mailed to you to collect change. Then devote prayers, fasting, and almsgiving to changing the lives of those in need. On March 22, 2021, the One Great Hour of Sharing offering will be received.
17. Pray for somebody. As you’re walking the streets, driving the highways, or waiting for a meeting to start, pick out a person who appears to be in need and pray for that person. Be mindful of the words of philosopher Philo of Alexandria, who said, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle.”
18. Get to know your neighbors. Introduce yourself, plan a virtual dinner, or bring food to an older person on your block or near you.
19. Read the acts of compassion as Jesus describes them in Matthew 25:31-46. Then put this teaching into practice and choose an act of service you can perform throughout Lent.
20. Other. Maybe this list has sparked some ideas of your own. By all means, follow through on them!
May this Lenten season be full and rich as you explore new ways (or continue old ways with renewed passion) as we journey with Jesus toward Calvary.
*What is One Great Hour of Sharing®?
One Great Hour of Sharing, part of Our Church’s Wider Mission, is the special mission offering of the United Church of Christ that carries God’s message of love and hope to people in crisis. The UCC works with international partners to provide sources of clean water, food, education and health care, small business micro-credit, advocacy and resettlement for refugees and displaced persons, and emergency relief and rehabilitation. One Great Hour of Sharing also supports domestic and international ministries for disaster preparedness and response.
If giving by check, simply make the check out to Grace UCC and put OGHS in the memo line. OGHS envelopes are also available if you are sending cash. Also, I’m sure Sandy and Larry would really appreciate it if you would convert the change from the banks into larger bills or a check 😊!