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Observing the season of Lent in different ways

We find ourselves in the third week of Lent, and I hope this has been a fruitful and meaningful season for you so far. As I’ve talked with some of you in Bible study or in the hallway or on Facebook, it seems that we are all observing the season in different ways. Some of you have given up things like chocolate, Diet Coke and complaining. Others of you have taken on new practices like letter-writing, morning prayer or spiritual reading.

Not everyone has given up something or taken on something. Lent has a way of sneaking up on us. Many of us just weren’t ready to come up with an idea. Some of us are new to the idea of Lent and don’t really know what we should do or not do. And that’s okay. Regardless of how you are approaching Lent, we’re all in this together and we’re all learning as we go.

For my part, I have decided to give up something and to take on something. For these forty days of Lent, I am giving up Word W.E.L.D.E.R. “What is that?” you might ask. Well, it’s a game I started playing on my phone. It’s like a crossword puzzle on steroids, and it’s a lot of fun for geeks like me to play. Here’s why I’m giving it up: In the few weeks leading up to Lent, when I found myself with a free moment—while the kids were doing homework, while I was waiting in the doctor’s office, etc.—I would pick up the phone and start playing. It began to fill the spaces in my life, and it drew my awareness away from the present moment. Don’t get me wrong. Sometimes a little word game is just what you need. Sometimes you need to rest your mind and step away from the present moment. But not that often. So, I’ve given it up for awhile. No big deal.

While giving up a little word game is not much, I have taken on a deeper practice that is a bit more challenging. Each morning, I am getting up 45 minutes earlier than usual in order to practice centering prayer. I am not a morning person, so this is hard for me. But that’s not the main reason that this kind of prayer is difficult.

Centering prayer is meant to lead you into deep silence and stillness. As you sit down to pray, you try not to hold on to any thoughts, images or emotions that come to you. As one practitioner has put it, you try to “quiet the inner noise.” Over and over and over again in those minutes of silence, I try to release my thoughts and feelings and worries to God. And that is really hard!

But before I got too frustrated with myself, I came across this story in a book by Cynthia Bourgeault that offered me some grace: Many years ago, a nun was first learning the practice of centering prayer from Father Thomas Keating. After twenty minutes of silence, she lamented, “I’m such a failure at this prayer. In twenty minutes, I’ve had ten thousand thoughts.” “How lovely,” responded Keating. “Ten thousand opportunities to return to God!”

That’s what Lent is all about: returning to God. The little practice of prayer that I’ve taken on this season is helping me to return to God a thousand times every morning. What things are helping you returning to God this season?