by James D. Findlay
Lent is a special time of year. Its name is related to the word “length,” since Lent is always celebrated when the days lengthen and winter turns to spring. The season has traditionally been seen as a time of renunciation or self-denial, when we “give up things” for Lent. But Lent is best experienced as a time of growth: growing closer to God and our true selves through prayer, meditation, and focused attention to our spiritual lives.
One of the best ways to grow closer to God during Lent is to prayerfully ponder the Bible’s sacred words. Its stories and poems shape our lives and nurture our souls.
Enriching your prayer life.
We can prepare for our Lenten journey with the Bible by setting aside special time and space in our lives. All of us are busy; but Lent offers us a time to slow down, to discern what is most meaningful in our work and play, and to cherish the rhythms of our daily activities. As we examine our schedules each day, we find times of 10 to 20 minutes, whether during the morning, evening, or both, which we can set aside for a quiet interlude.
Select a text.
Choosing Bible texts to read and pray with can be done in various ways. Many congregations, regional church officers, and religious publishers provide daily Lenten devotional books, in which a Scripture text is paired with a short written reflection for each of the 40 days of the season. With some searching, you can certainly find one that fits you.
Creating your own prayer experience.
Discovering or shaping a sacred space is also very helpful for enriching our Lenten experience. It doesn’t need to be large; just a special chair, desk, or corner where we can turn our hearts and minds to God’s Word and our own souls.
Placing a small plant on a corner table; setting up a fountain with the comforting sound of flowing water; playing gentle and comforting music: all of these can be great helps to “creating sacred space” at home for being attentive to our spiritual needs.
Begin on Ash Wednesday.
The texts from the beginning of Lent are particularly fruitful for prayer and meditation. When the season starts on Ash Wednesday, the readings usually mention fasting and prayer. This can help us set out on our Lenten journey by meditating on what fasting means to us. We might refrain from eating certain foods that day, or even throughout Lent. But by considering carefully what it means to “release” or “let go,” we often find that God is present where we once were focused on what we thought we desired. Instead of feeling a loss, though, we are enriched by the Spirit, which fills the quiet space left when we focus on God.
“The time of Lent is precious, a time to slow down, restrain ourselves, and prepare our hearts for Good Friday and the remembrance of Jesus’ death.”
Lent—and faith—requires perseverance.
The Gospel text for the First Sunday of Lent always describes Jesus’ 40 days of fasting and his temptation by Satan. This story, too, can guide our Lenten journey as the season continues. Opening up our imaginations as we pray with this text, we can walk with Jesus through the landscape of the desert.
Learn to read Scripture in new ways.
Whether we read a different Bible passage each day, or meditate on some texts for longer periods during the season, we can learn new ways to read and experience Scripture. Considering a passage slowly, or even reading it out loud, will lead us to certain images that will be fruitful for us.
Whenever such a word or picture enters our minds, we can stop the reading and focus on that single thing which the Spirit has sent us. Then we can sit with it awhile, simply watching the picture or repeating the word carefully in our minds. If we sense the voice of God speaking to us, we can continue to quietly rest and let the Spirit lead us in our thoughts and reflections.
Lifting your heart to God.
As the season of Lent progresses, and we become more at ease with the rhythm of reading, praying, meditating, and self-examination to which Lent invites us, we will find that the Bible becomes a great resource for our inner life and outward endeavors. Thomas Merton once said, in light of his experiences with the Bible as a monk, activist, writer, and teacher, that “the Word of God in the Psalms is the same reality which comes to us in the Eucharist, just in a different form.”