Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6. Have you thought about participating this year?
No season of the liturgical year has been more formative in my healing journey than Lent. While, my religious background trained me well in the reality of sin, death, and crucifixion, it did not provide much in the way of liturgical or devotional practices for lament, grief, and confession.
In my experience, this dissonance between teaching and practice fostered a sentimental approach to Jesus' life, death and resurrection. I was spiritual stunted in my ability to experience or to walk with others in their suffering. In this , the cross becomes a photoshopped decoration hanging in the background of a Church resistant to the invitations of the Suffering Servant who longs to save us in our suffering, and make us completely new in resurrection.
Of course, personal and global suffering permeate every day of our lives in one way or another. We live in a broken body on a broken earth, and the Church calendar doesn't intend for us to ignore the entire spectrum of human suffering and joy based on the liturgical season. Instead, the cycle of fasting and feasting, celebration and lament provides practice, piece by piece, to form us wholly as Christians. Through each season, we meditate specific portions of Scripture year after year to learn the whole story of God and His people, and not just the portions with which we are most comfortable.
When we celebrate the liturgical seasons, we grow not only in our knowledge of Scripture, but we learn also how to embody its life-giving truth. In the wisdom of our Church fathers and mothers - themselves informed by the collective memory of millenia of Jewish feasts and fasts initiated by the Creator - each liturgical season marks itself with daily, physical practices.
We are not disembodied spirits just gritting our teeth until we are released from these bodies, like an unwanted overcoat, when we die. Nor are we merely defined by the physical matter that just happen to contain a spiritual being for those who care about those things. In the accounts of the Incarnated Christ we read through Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, we discover year after year a Christ, God made Man, who is not either body or spirit, but both body and spirit. During Lent, Eastertide and Pentecost, we set up camp for longer periods of time in each essential part of our being: body and spirit.
Lent is a 40 day lesson in what it means to be bodies cursed by death and decay. If you've ever received the cross-shaped ash on your forehead, you've heard the pastoral reminder of a very real, and very sad state in which we find ourselves: Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.
From Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday, we follow the account of Christ as he makes His way to the Cross. In Epiphany, we encounter the light of divinity dwelling on Christ, inviting us to join Him as the light of the world. In Lent, we recognize and mourn the curse of sin and death that has separated man from God, even as we are invited to carry our cross and follow Christ on the road of suffering. We grow in humility and gratitude with the Lenten practice of remembering that once we were alienated from God and lived as people with no hope, and we seek mercy for those still living in that state.
There's so much joy to be found in humility. If you haven't ever fully entered into the practice of Lent, would you consider joining me this year? May I encourage you that this doesn't need to be (and probably shouldn't) be complicated.
Here are a few essential practices for a faithful Lent:
1. Attend an Ash Wednesday service.
Read a description of the service here.
2. Make a simple commitment to participate in three historical practices of the Church throughout the 40 days of Lent:
We have followed this pattern in a variety of ways throughout the past nine years we've been practicing Lent. While there’ve been years we've practiced a more severe fast (e.g., all sugar, alcohol, processed foods, and television), perhaps the most beneficial years are the ones we chose one or two things to give up. We've also learned to take up practices in their place. For example, you might choose to give up eating an entire meal (or day of meals), and in place, set aside extended time for prayer or meditation. You might fast from a certain technological device while taking up reading, walking, or letter-writing in its place.
The point is to make space in our lives to give up reliance on one thing in order to grow in dependence on Christ.
3. Choose a daily devotional guide. I’d be honored for you to choose my annual Lent Daybook devotional posts which you can read about in more detail below. We also enjoy a variety of other devotional books which you can read about here.
4. We light candles, look at art, sing hymns, pray and read Scripture together. We try to do this every day, but we average more like 4 out of 7 days. My best tip for you if your family feels awkward doing this? Turn the lights off! There's nothing like sitting in the dark looking at a few flickering candles to break the ice of awkward family Bible time.
How to enjoy Lent Daybook posts: Look, Listen, Read, Pray, & Do
Each day of Lent (March 6 - April 20) I’ll publish a devotional post. The Lent Daybook posts leading up to Holy Week will include a work of art, song, daily Scripture passages, a short prayer, and a simple activity to help you practice the prayerful days of Lent. During Holy Week, I’ll publish the seventh annual series, Retrieve Lament. Each year, I ask friends to share a "mourning story" from their own life as a way to help us see Christ in the midst of suffering.
Some might call this devotional practice of visual contemplation Visio Divina, or a divine looking. It’s not the actual work of art that is divine, but the Holy Spirit’s invitation to encounter Christ through nonverbal reflection. Throughout the year I collect digital images that I think will enhance the Scriptural themes of Lent. You’ll notice that some of the images evoke traditional scenes of the Passion of Christ, while others seem to have nothing to do with the traditional images of the season. The images rotate through classic and contemporary art of all media. Each week I include an image (usually a photograph) from news headlines of the year. My hope is that the Scripture passages for each day orient the visual art selection and sometimes, honestly, that’s a difficult task.
Most of the songs I share each day are worship songs and contemporary versions of old classic hymns, but each week I try to mix in a classical instrumental or choral arrangement. Lent is particularly suited to highlight the rich canon of old Spirituals and Gospel songs. Paradoxically, mainstream pop, rock, indie, and country catalogues are chock full of songs the reflect the weariness and anxiety of living in a broken world so you’ll hear some of them, too! I try to select quality recordings and include both a Spotify and YouTube version for your convenience. Since the music is chosen to enhance the visual art, my family chooses to play the music as a backdrop for contemplating the image. You might choose to do each separately. I also include a link to lyrics for each song so you can sing along if you’d like!
If you love seasonal playlists as much as I do, here’s links to all five (5!) of my Lenten playlists. Add any of the lists to your Spotify account by clicking ‘Follow.’
Lent 2019 on Spotify:
Songs for Everybody (Note: In the voice of Lent, a few of these songs contain language and difficult themes. They're marked "explicit".)
Oh my goodness, I love the lectionary. I’ve always been intrigued by the interweaving of Old and New Testaments for the beauty of the literary rhythms as well as the deep satisfaction of experiencing the living, breathing word of God that looks backwards and forwards at the same time. It’s so rich. If you don’t do anything else with the posts I send each day, read the Scripture passages. I include a link for the complete lectionary passages each day and then excerpt the portions that particularly spoke to me as I was preparing the post. I use the English Standard Version most often, but if you click through the link to the Biblegateway page, you can adjust the version to your preference.
From March 6 - April 13, Sunday Scripture readings are taken from the Revised Common Lectionary (Year C). Daily Scripture readings are taken from the Book of Common Prayer (Year 1) with only one or two of the daily Psalms.
Starting on Palm Sunday, April 14, we’ll shift away from the lectionary to focus on the litany of last words Jesus spoke from the cross; we refer to them as the Seven Last Words of Christ. The deathbed words of the Suffering Servant provide a framework for the stories of lament I’ve asked seven friends to share with us from their own life experiences of grief. This is a highlight of the year for me on the blog and 2019 is our seventh year helping each other retrieve a Christlike lament for the brokenness of our lives and world.
Each week the prayers are formed around the Sunday collect (prayer said by the congregation in Sunday worship). While you could pray directly from the daily Scripture (especially the Psalms) or the hymn lyrics, I include a guided prayer for each day. Once a week, I invite you to a form of intercessory prayer termed “Prayers of the People” from the Book of Common Prayer. This allows us to set aside at least one day to remember each sphere of our world with particular prayer from your context.
The spiritual practice of contemplation, at its best, moves between stillness and thoughtful action. We were made by a Creator to love Him, our neighbors, and ourselves with heart, mind, soul, and strength. I’m delighted to invite you to some simple, daily actions to demonstrate that love outwardly. Some of the activities will feel familiar to the traditional Lenten customs of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, and some will feel new and counterintuitive. It’s all good.
A Lenten Community
When I first started this series, I was compelled to create something I’d been looking for and couldn’t find online. While I own and enjoy several printed beautiful devotional books for Lent and Eastertide, I was intrigued by the idea of a multi-media, shared experience that can be cultivated online. Since then, many new and wonderful resources release each year. It’s tempting to dabble in each one, but I encourage you to find what works best for you and to simply, prayerfully walk through each day with intentional companions. I’m honored to be included in your Lenten journey.
I’ve also known from the beginning that I wanted this to be a free offering. The ability to access a world of beauty for free on the internet literally changed my life. I want to be part of that free stream, and since I’m mostly curating the work of other people I encourage you to click through the source links to purchase their art. If you’re appreciating the posts and would like to support my work on the website, I’ve include a PayPal “tip jar” on the blog page and in the bottom of some of the Lent posts - (paypal.me/TamaraHillMurphy).
Conversation makes a community so please comment here on the blog or social media regularly! Let me know how you’re experiencing God’s invitation through the Lent Daybook posts or any other part of your day. I love to hear from you.
Facebook - I’ll link the daily posts. In order to make sure you see each post, you'll need to "like" the page and click on the "Following" button and then the "On" option in the drop-down box.
Twitter - I’m not very active, but I do cross-link the daily posts for those of you who like to hang out there.
Subscribe via Email - I’m looking forward to spending the next coming weeks together. If you’d like to receive the daily posts in your email inbox, subscribe with your email below. (You don’t need to do this if you already receive posts via email.)
A Holy Lent to you and yours. Lord, have mercy on us all.
What are some traditions you keep to help you slow down and pay attention to the presence of God in the days leading up to Holy Week and Easter? Comment below - I'm listening!
*Please note that, in an effort to be a good steward of time and resources for our family, this post includes affiliate links. When you purchase any item you click through from these links, you'll pay the same amount, but we'll get a few pennies in our coffers.Thank you!*