Lent Reflection – Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday

We start a 46-day journey to Easter Sunday today. Traditionally we do something extra or give up something for 40 of these days. We might skip the six Sundays as these, traditionally, are days off, given to relaxing the discipline in order to remember an essential fact that we should not forget during Lent: that we have already arrived at where we are going.

Any spiritual practice is about realising reality, not making it happen. Although, of course, the process and stages of realisation are also a kind of happening.

Resurrection has happened or else we would not be observing Lent. We observe Lent not to make Resurrection happen, certainly not to make life hard for ourselves because of what we have done wrong (and will probably continue to do for the foreseeable future). Lent reduces the miasma of ignorance that bedevils our ability to live life to the fullest: it helps us to perceive clearly, to get priorities right, to restore balance where we have lost it.

I used to be more puritanical and think that I should keep up even on Sundays whatever practice I had chosen; usually as a child it was giving up pleasures like sweets or as an adult a pleasure like alcohol or movies. Today I am a bit more relaxed about it and forgiving of myself. If I keep the practice on Sundays it would be because I feel it is doing me good and so (in a healthy way) I am discovering the different kind of pleasure found through experiencing freedom and simplification.

I would suggest – if you haven’t already done so – to decide what you want to do and what you don’t want to do during the next 46 (or 40) days. The principles in choosing are, for example: Does what I abstain from and what I undertake respect and advance the healthy integration of mind, body and spirit? Is my Lenten practice an affirmation of goodness, not a punishment for weakness? Will it reduce addiction and moderate desire? Will it remind me of how time can be better spent and less wasted? Will it help to show me that behind my faults and bad patterns there is always something good that can be restored to health?

You could use Lent, for example, to start meditating (in which case would you skip it on Sundays?) To make the time for it you can give up something like Netflix bingeing or aimless surfing or gaming. For the meditator you can start meditating again as if for the first time and recover the fresh wonder of when this gift first entered your life. You could ensure that you do both the sessions, morning and evening (including Sundays, when you might also do a third). And you might be more conscious of controlling daydreaming – and, on things or people of apparently small account, bestow a generous bonus of pure attention.

I hope these daily readings will help me to keep this focus and find this deeper freedom and joy. If they do, they may also, I hope, be of some value to you on this journey we start together today.

Fr. Laurence Freeman

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