Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Lent – Finding Balance by Eleanor Shepherd

            Today is Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. It seems unusual that Ash Wednesday would also fall on the first day of the month.  As we begin a new month, we also begin a unique time of waiting and of preparation. Lent is a 40 day period when Christians can devote themselves to reflection, prayer and fasting in preparation for Easter. 

            For many this day includes the ancient custom of applying ashes to the forehead as a symbol of their faith and penance. The ashes come from the burning of the palm fronds that were used on Palm Sunday the previous year. This time of penance and fasting comes from an ancient Jewish tradition, a way that God’s people chose to show their repentance and recognition of their unworthiness to live in God’s holy presence.

            It is interesting to note the drive for balance and equilibrium in our journey of faith. Times of reflection leading to sorrow and penance are followed by times of rejoicing and celebration. The major celebrations of the Christian year, Christmas and Easter are preceded by seasons of reflection and waiting, Advent and Lent. These times permit us the opportunity to reflect about and prepare ourselves for these celebrations. They provide opportunities to put our spiritual houses in order.

            My personal efforts to do this are quite rudimentary. Each year I choose to give up coffee for Lent. That does not seem like any great spiritual act, but when our bodies have become addicted to the high produced by something we enjoy, to forego that particular thing creates some discomfort. My husband always teases me about giving up my coffee, although he also respects my tenacity, as he tried it once and could not persist. 
He says that on Easter Sunday morning, my joy is as much about the end of my self-denial of coffee as it is a celebration of the Resurrection. While I deny that is the case, I am also aware that there is some truth in what he says.

            I have lived long enough to realize that it is always difficult for us to have pure motives about the things we do. However, I also know that what is important is being intentional in the choices we make. I want to be sincere in my spiritual practices and not just do things for show or to try to impress other people or even myself. How can I do that? Advent and Lent provide a way.

            During Lent I can discipline myself in a small way by giving up my coffee to create some space in my life for penance – to be honest with myself and look at my true motives. Recently I have undertaken a commitment to follow the Ignatian spiritual disciplines and I am becoming aware that I can only make significant changes in my life when I acknowledge where I am today and what my shortcomings are. Then I can explore how to forsake these and make better choices as the light of God’s grace reveals the new possibilities that emerge. Applying this to Lent means that when Easter comes, I will be ready to celebrate the re-creation of new life that God has been doing in me. Observing Lent helps me to become more genuine in the practice of my faith.  
Word Guild Award
Word Guild Award
  Eleanor Shepherd from Pointe Claire, Quebec has more than 90 articles published in Canada,  France,  the U.S.A., Belgium, Switzerland and New Zealand. Thirty years with The Salvation Army in Canada and France including ministry in Africa, Europe, Haiti and the Caribbean furnished material for her Award winning book, More Questions than Answers, Sharing Faith by Listening. Eleanor works as a pastor in Montreal with The Salvaton Army.


Donna Mann said...

Thanks you for your post, Eleanor. Such heart felt words. I'll be printing it out and putting it between the covers of your book, which btw, I still enjoy. I too have done the Ignatius Disciplines. Helps to get me back on track. In our tradition we take Lent seriously and it always bring us to a greater celebration of the Easter season. Blessings, D.

Peter Black said...

Thank you Eleanor. I haven't engaged in the Ignatius Disciplines, per se. However, I do take Lent as a season for personal reflection on my spiritual walk and condition, especially in regard to my motives in life and Christian service, and with consideration of Jesus' journey to the cross and His death and resurrection, and their present and eternal significance.
This is the third Lent in succession in which the hymn "When I Survey the Wondrous Cross" has taken on a new and deeper significance for me personally, although I've known and appreciated it since my early childhood. ~~+~~

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