The English word Lent is a shortened form of the Old English word lencten, meaning “spring season”. Lencten and lengthen are cognates and pick up the theme of lengthening days in the Northern Hemisphere. Fasting and abstinence became associated with Lent in identification with Jesus’ 40 days fasting and prayer in the wilderness right after his baptism. Fasting and abstinence morphed over the years into giving up something for Lent. Emptiness makes us attentive to what else might fill us.
“Is not this the fast that I choose…to undo the thongs of the yoke…to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house”Isaiah 58.5-7
“Jesus reaches out to the suffering world from the silent center where he stands in full attentiveness to his Father.”Henri J.M. Nouwen, Compassion: A Reflection on the Christian Life
There is a “silent center” in all of us where God meets us with deep compassion. It is from this silent center that compassion spills out to touch others. It is in this silent center that God begins to lift the inner oppression and undo the thongs of the heavy burdens to which our lives are yoked. Sometimes we don’t know that we are yoked to heavy burdens which weigh us down until we take time to meet God in that silent center. But when we do take time to enter the silent center, we begin to feel the weight of the burden. What weighs us down might be anxiety, depression, sadness, fear, feelings or thoughts we are ashamed of, perfectionism, hopelessness, anger, resentment, feelings of worthlessness and old traumas. Whatever emerges, once encountered with compassion, we offer them to the God who undoes the straps of the yoke so we can breathe and walk more freely along a way that gives life.
I invite you, therefore, during this period of Lent, to seek some times of quiet to be present and attentive to that inner space. It may mean taking an occasional contemplative walk or finding a quiet place in the morning or the evening and writing down the thoughts, images, memories and feelings that arise. Then you can offer them to God to do the rest.
Another practice is what I call the “Fast of Generosity.” As you are attentive to the quiet inner space, you now are attentive to the space between you and others. Ask God to bless the space between you and anyone you meet. Imagine they are yoked to heavy burdens too. Do something generous or caring for a stranger. It can be as simple as smile at them and make eye contact. If someone frowns at you, disagrees with you or is rude, imagine that person is yoked to a heavy weight. Pray for them and reach out with a kind word or expression. You may be an agent of helping to lift that burden and, in so doing, finding your burden lighter as well.
May you all have a very blessed and transformational Lent.