Springtime for the Soul
By Rev. Greg Methvin | March 4, 2019
It’s cold outside…really cold, especially for March. But when I drive down my neighborhood alley, the Bradford Pear buds are beginning to bloom. Strange…it feels like winter, but Spring lets us know she is right around the corner.
Lent is meant to be the Springtime of the soul. The word Lent refers to “spring” in its Old English roots. A lent or “lengthening of days” as happens in early spring. Parts of the spiritual season of Lent look and feel like Winter: dark Ash Wednesday, muted colors in our church vestments, sacrifice and ascetical practices. But the efforts of Lent produce fully awake souls bursting with new growth.
What is Lent and what is a Christian supposed to do with it? The Bible never mentions Lent specifically, but early on, followers of Jesus were setting aside special days for fasting and preparation. Historically, Christians reserved days of heightened attention to their spiritual lives in preparation for the big celebration of Easter. Lent also served as a time of preparation for those being baptized. The season probably originated from Egypt as Christians sought to emulate Jesus’ 40 Days of preparation in the wilderness following his baptism. All three of these traditions converged to become six weeks of devotion and special practices designed to stimulate spiritual growth.
So on Ash Wednesday (March 6), we invite one another to observe a holy Lent; a time to deal with destructive habits and spiritual blockades so that our faith and love for God may deepen and develop. In the Book of Common Prayer (BCP), the invitation reads:
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word (BCP 265).
On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of our mortality and need for God by receiving a cross of ashes on our forehead. The ashes are delivered with these words from Scripture: Thou art dust and to dust thou shalt return. These sober words are spoken to people of all ages, not as an insult, but as a reminder that our life-times are limited. So let us put away the things that steal our life and joy, and passionately pursue the things that provide life, meaning and purpose.
The psalmist puts it this way: So teach us to number our days that we may apply our hearts to wisdom (Psalm 90:12). How does God teach us to “apply our hearts to wisdom?” Just as we weed and feed our lawns and gardens for Spring, we do the same for our souls. So when we think about fully engaging in Lent, we are looking for things to stop doing and new things to start doing.
Weeding the Soul
Lent is the perfect time for self-examination, repentance and fasting. How do we do this practically? Set aside some time for deep reflection to pay attention to the inner rooms of your heart. We have a number of resources in the Book of Common Prayer to help us. The Great Litany (BCP 148) is a meticulous x-ray of the soul. Allowing this prayerful scan will reveal some overlooked cracks in our faith. A simpler examination can be found in the Penitential Order (BCP 315 and 350) where the Ten Commandments and other Scriptures serve to search our hearts and scatter the darkness.
Some will use the Lenten season to schedule a pastoral Confession with a priest. Planning and preparation is important to maximize this moment, but if interested, contact our church office and preview that meeting in the BCP 446.
In addition to addressing our sin directly, Lent invites us to simplify our life by sacrificing some of our regular habits and routines in order to make more room for God. We call this spiritual exercise fasting. A spiritual fast is meant to serve as a feast for the soul. Much more than a crash diet, a soulful fast “gives up” something in order to provide new space for God.
Fasts come in all shapes and forms. Some fast from certain foods (sugar, meat on certain days, alcoholic beverages). By saying, “No” to these things, they remind us to say “Yes” to God. Others fast or limit their screen time and other forms of entertainment to make room for devotion, prayer or study. Remember, whatever we give up should lead us to God and not merely away from a bad habit.
Feeding the Soul
Lent is not only about giving up things for God. It should also include taking on a new source of spiritual nourishment. Could be a Bible study, specific time for prayer, or new spiritual exercise like our prayer bead resource we are using this year.
If you are struggling with doubts or curious about the claims of the Christian faith, this is a perfect season to pursue answers and address your questions through reading, conversations with clergy, and heartfelt prayer.
Springtime for the soul is here, so don’t miss out on the new growth and discoveries God has designed for you this Lent.