These daily readings by Laurence Freeman, a Benedictine monk and Director of The World Community for Christian Meditation, are to help those following them make a better Lent. This is a set time and preparation for Easter, during which special attention is given to prayer, extra generosity to others and self-control. It is customary to give something up, or restrain your use of something but also to do something additional that will benefit you spiritually and simplify you. Running through these readings will be an encouragement to start to make meditation a daily practice or, if it already is, then to deepen it by preparing for the times of meditation more carefully. The morning and evening meditations then become the true spiritual centre of your day. Here is the tradition, a very simple way of meditation, that we teach:
Sit down, Sit still with your back straight. Close your eyes lightly. Breathe normally. Silently, interiorly begin to repeat a single word, or manta. We recommend the ancient prayer phrase ‘maranatha’. It is Aramaic (the language of Jesus) for ‘Come Lord’, but do not think of its meaning. The purpose of the mantra is to lay aside all thoughts, good, bad, indifferent together with images, plans, memories and fantasies. Say the word as four equal syllables: ma ra na tha. Listen to it as you repeat it and keep returning to it when you become distracted. Meditate for about twenty minutes each morning and evening. Meditating with others, as in a weekly group, is very helpful to developing this practice as part of your daily life. Visit the community’s website for further help and inspiration: wccm.org
The real mystery of the human is that we are so convinced that we have to get somewhere, failing to realise that we are already there. We wouldn’t be thinking of goals and objectives unless they were already activated in our personal consciousness. So, let’s start Lent today with the Resurrection.
Without the Resurrection, Lent would be a dull, self-centred time devoted to cultivating one’s own spiritual garden. We would be concerned only with giving things up that we like or doing difficult things that we think would be good for us. Maybe they would be, but motivation is everything. Many, Catholics especially, today will be having conversations about what they are ‘doing for Lent’ often with a humorous tone and a little bit of religious competitiveness. “If he is giving up alcohol for Lent, maybe I should as well..” Jesus’ teaching on all this is clear. Don’t publicise your ‘good deeds’ and even ‘don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing’. If this sounds very complex and challenging, in fact it is ridiculously simple.
When spiritual practice is covertly run by the ego (and most things are) we unconsciously slip into thinking that progress, coming closer to God, is linked to suffering or to voluntary discomfort. It’s like thinking that we have to do something unpleasant to make someone who already loves us continue loving us. We don’t feel worthy. We don’t trust. We hedge our bets. God must be having a good laugh at our reluctance to believe the obvious.
Like meditation, Lent isn’t about spiritual leverage over God or about taking back control of our spiritual journey. As we begin Lent, let’s decide, with the simplest motivation, whether we will do something or do nothing. (Her mother told the young Queen in the TV series The Crown that doing nothing is the most difficult thing.) The gift today is to determine to more deeply believe the gift of God’s love. This is impossible until we feel that God actually likes us.
Let’s try this Lent to shed whatever remains of our pagan, ego-coloured idea of God and so prepare for the resurrection by living in the new light of Christ. The old gods died when devotion to them dried up. They looked powerful but, like celebrities, they feed off human attention and wither when it fails.
The true God is far more real and interesting and infinitely friendly. So, something or nothing? Simply being more faithful to our daily times of meditation and to the simplicity of the mantra combines both options. (As John Main said ‘prayer is the essential ascesis of the Christian life’).
Lenten Reflections 2020