The fresh shine of anything new wears off quickly. The novelty of Lent doesn’t last long either, so we don’t have much time to decide what it is going to mean for us this year.
Whatever we decide ‘to do’, to ‘give up’ or ‘take on’ for Lent the most important thing is to be Lent. This means allowing the spirit of Lent to percolate and surface in our consciousness. What is the spirit of Lent? Using time to simplify, focus and centre our minds. This inevitably involves our bodies as well because mind and body dance and weave together continuously so that one dimension always impacts on the other. Giving up smoking, alcohol or mindless media consumption will challenge our mental state but before long for the better. Taking on an extra time for meditation and reading will enrich our physical well-being by reducing the build-up of physical tension. They say fifty percent of people prescribed medication don’t take it. Maybe fifty percent of meditators who think they meditate, don’t.
Asceticism is part of any healthy spirituality of life but it is not just about cultivating our private inner garden. This is why Jesus says that whatever we ‘do’ in this respect should be informed by a higher consciousness by which he means less self-consciousness. ‘Do not let you left hand know what your left hand is doing’ and detach yourself from concern about impressing others. This releases a lot of energy, puts spring in our step and even improves our physical posture.
That energy is the joy of being, the energy of creation flowing direct from the source. We cannot think it into being. We need to remove the habits of body or mind that block or pollute it. Then joy begins to flow everywhere and we won’t be able to stop it even when things are not going well for us or if we are carrying the burden of the suffering of others – as we all are for Ukraine these days. Joy is ultimately what defeats oppression and the powers of darkness: whether they are tanks rolling in to kill the innocent and strip people of their peace and freedom or whether they are our own dark shadows welling up to overwhelm us.
Simone Weil said we cannot learn anything except through joy.
A most surprising discovery that pure prayer leads to is that renouncing our imagined position at the centre of the universe is not, as we fear, destructive but life-giving. Today’s gospel says this:
If you want to be a follower of mine, let yourself renounce yourself and take up your cross every day and follow me. For anyone who wants to save his life will lose it; but anyone who loses his life for my sake, that man will save it. What’s the gain, then, even if you win the whole world but lose or ruin your true and very self in the process? (Lk 9:22-25)
Laurence Freeman
Lenten Reflections 2022