Lent Versus Easter: The Importance of Seasonal Spiritual Practices

Lent Versus Easter_2He is Risen!  Alleluia!  Alleluia!

Happy, Happy Easter, good friends!!!

After a demanding and exhausting Lent, I greeted Easter Sunday morning with jubilation.  My husband and I went to church that morning in our Sunday best.  His shirt pressed.  My hair curled.  Then, along with our black lab donning a bright white bow, we met up with family for brunch.  The adults drank gin and tonic’s.  The kids searched for eggs.  We all indulged in ham, asparagus, potatoes, cake, candy, and cookies.  

I greeted that Easter Sunday evening, however, with less enthusiasm.  I had a stomach ache from all the sugar and a headache from all the alcohol.  Without my Lenten sacrifices and my practices, I felt unmoored and unsettled.  

I had been so intentional about how I would observe the Lenten season, but I had given almost no thought to how I would celebrate the Easter season.

In the Catholic tradition, Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and ends 40 days later with Holy Thursday.  Then, the Easter season begins with Resurrection Sunday and ends 50 days later with Pentecost Sunday.

Lent is a time of fasting; Easter is a time of feasting.

Lent is a time of abstinence; Easter is a time of abundance.

Lent is a time of contrition; Easter is a time of celebration.

Most years, I regard Easter as an excuse to abandon my spiritual practices.  This year, however, after such a grueling Lent, Easter seemed different to me.  It was not a reason to pause my practices.  It was an opportunity to change my spiritual practices.  

Lent, after all, is just the opening act for the main event.  The resurrection is not the end of Lent; it is the beginning of Easter.  It inaugurates the new world and the new life for which we’ve been preparing.  

So, this year, I’ve decided to mark the Easter season as intentionally and diligently as I marked Lent.  I’m trading in my fast from sweets for prayers over all my meals.  I’m trading in my Evening Prayer for a daily gratitude journal.  

I still spend time with my Bible.  But, rather than dwelling in the dark scriptures, I bask in the Gospels’ resurrection accounts.  I still work in my journal.  But, rather than listing my shortcomings or supplications, I count my blessings.  I still offer up prayers.  But, rather than mourning over my sins, I rejoice in my salvation.  In this way, Easter does not thoughtlessly discard my Lenten spiritual practices; it thoughtfully builds upon them.

It is easy to see Lent as a goal we accomplish or a season we survive.  The penitential season, however, is actually just a preparation for the Easter celebration.  So, how do you intend to mark this Easter season?  How do you intend to embrace the new life and the new world that Easter brings?

4 Easy Steps For A Better Prayer: Adoration: ACTS Series

Since moving several states away from my hometown, I’ve missed a lot.  I’m not only referring to the emotion of missing some place or something or someone.  I’m also talking about the actual act of missing out.  I’m simply not there for birthday parties or marriage proposals; funerals or break-ups.  Perhaps even worse, I’m not there to go to happy hour, get a manicure, tan at the pool, or see to a movie.  I hate missing those moments, both big and small, good and bad, that make a close friendship.

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I want to be a part of everything for my closest friends.  I want to celebrate the triumphs and mourn the disappointments.  I want to encourage and help; to challenge and push.

I want that sort of intimacy with Christ as well, and Christ wants that sort of intimacy with me.

Prayer in general, and the ACTS formula in particular, helps me form that relationship with Him. This prayer of Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication helps me share everything with Christ.  The big and small, the good and bad.  It also invites Him to celebrate and mourn with me, to encourage and challenge me.

Over the next month, each Wednesday, I will reflect on each component of the ACTS prayer in more detail.  My hope is that, by examining each piece in more detail, we can all practice the prayer more thoughtfully and effectively.  

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We begin, of course, at the beginning, with adoration.

Adore, according to the dictionary, is “to regard with the utmost esteem, love, and respect; honor.”

The Psalmist adored God when he said, “Great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised;/ his greatness is unsearchable” (145: 3; NRSV).  Jesus adored God when he said, “Our Father in heaven,/ hallowed be your name” (Matthew 6:9; NRSV).  I adore God when I say, “Good and gracious God” or “God, you are all-powerful, all-beautiful, all-wonderful.”

We adore God because He, as an all-loving and all-mighty being, deserves of our adoration.  We adore God for the same reason we say, “I love you” to our spouses or “you are amazing” to our parents.  We want them to know how deeply we care for them.  We want God to know deeply we care for Him.

This adoration, however, also has a profound effect on us.  

First, adoration drags my attention away from myself.  Usually, when I sit down to pray, my instinct is not to say “good and gracious God,” but “woe is poor, pitiful me.”  My own fears and desires consume me.  I so often place myself, not God, at the center of my thoughts.  If not for the act of adoration, I would also place myself at the center of my prayer to God.

Second, adoration reminds me exactly with whom I am speaking.  In prayer, I am not speaking with my therapist, my mom, my girlfriend, or my husband.  I am speaking with God Himself.  This reminder isn’t meant to intimidate me; it is meant to encourage me. Yes, God is the Creator of the Universe.  And, yes, He want to be part of every part of my life.

Finally, adoration prepares me for the other components of the prayer.  When I appreciate the greatness of God, I am more inclined to recognize and confess my sins to him; I am more eager to acknowledge my blessings and thank him for them; I am more willing to ask Him not just for the small things but the miraculous.

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I have missed a lot since I moved away from my hometown.  I am not there for all the baby showers, the tumultuous romances, or the late-night ice cream runs.  I cling, then, to every phone call, postcard, and text message.  I may be far away from my closest friends, but I still want to be part of every part of their lives.

So, it is with our God.  He desires that intimacy with us.  Through our confession, our thanksgiving, our supplication, we invite Him to know us.  Through adoration, however, He invites us to know him.  And, that God, as the Psalmist would say, is “greatly to be praised.”

The A.C.T.S. prayer, which includes Adoration, Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication, helps me share everything with Christ.  The big, the small.  The good, the bad.  Read more about the Confession, Thanksgiving, and Supplication.

5 Reasons To Go To Church This Sunday

I’ll be honest: coffee is always the first thing.  The alarm goes off, or my husband rubs my arm, or the dog licks my face, or my eyes flutter open, and I immediately stumble into the kitchen, toward the coffee pot.  

I watch the coffee brew.  I pour in the skim milk.  I stir in a bit of brown sugar.  I breathe in that beautiful, bitter scent, and I take that first, sweet sip.

5 Reasons To Go To Church This Sunday

This is the beginning of my Sunday morning.  Maroon 5 may have said it best, “things just get so crazy” and “living life gets hard to do,” but there is something subtly sacred about Sunday mornings.

Once the caffeine hits my bloodstream, I start moving through the other motions.  Eating my breakfast.  Taking my vitamins.  Showering.  Staring at my closet.  Doing my makeup.  Searching for my car keys.  Crating the pup.  Setting the alarm.  Driving to church.  I do it all with the coffee cup in my left hand.  I take the last sip as my husband parallel parks the car.

I’ll be honest: I almost always go to church on Sunday mornings.  And, I almost never want to go on Sunday mornings.  I don’t want to go anywhere on Sunday mornings.  I want to sit in bed with my coffee and a book.  But, I go to church anyway.  I usually go sleepy-eyed.  I rarely go bushy-tailed.

5 Reasons To Go To Church This Sunday_1Which begs the question: why go to church at all?  If you’re reading your Bible…  If you’re saying your prayers…  If you’re trying to be a good family member or co-worker…  If you’re attending a small group…  If you’re doing all those other spiritual practices throughout the week… Why go to church as well?

1.God is there.

God is everywhere, but He reveals Himself in a unique way in the community and in the liturgy.  A dear (brilliant) friend once said, if you’re trying to hear the voice of God in your life, why would you avoid the one place where He is most present.  In the community of believers.  In the Word.  In the Eucharist.  Jesus says it best in the Book of Matthew: “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them” (18:20, NRSV).

2. God wants you there.

Or, in other words, “because the Bible says so.”  As Paul wrote to the Hebrews, “let us consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another” (10:24-25, NRSV).  It is not easy being a Christian; it is a demanding call.  We need a community of like-minded believers to encourage us, challenge us, and hold us accountable.

3. Your neighbor needs you there.

I once skipped church to read Harry Potter.  It was the second to last book, and I was just beginning to understand horcruxes, and I could not step away.  So, I put my will, my wants first.  Over God’s.  Over my neighbor’s.  

As stated above, we all need a community to encourage and challenge us.  Just because you don’t want to go to church on a particular day doesn’t mean your neighbor doesn’t desperately need you at church on a particular day.  You owe it to your neighbor to put down the book and go to church.

4. You don’t know everything.

It is just true.  You don’t know everything.  I don’t know everything, either.  I went to seminary for three years full-time, and I barely learned the basics.  The Bible is the Word of God.  There is simply no way you – or I or even your pastor – could make sense of it alone.  By studying the Word in community, we avoid manipulating it according to our own (often subconscious) desires or fears.

5. Jesus did know everything… and he still worshipped in community.

Jesus is the Savior of the world, the Son of God, and he was always at the synagogue. Even he saw value in studying, worshipping, and praying with others.  His community was imperfect, and he frequently criticized both the institution and the members, but he went anyway.  There are worse examples to follow.

So, come Saturday night, get your coffee cup ready.  And, come Sunday morning, get showered, get dressed, and get to church.  Adam Levine was right.  “Things just get so crazy” and “living life gets hard to do.”  That’s not a reason to stay in bed next Sunday morning.  That’s the best reason to go to church next Sunday morning.

Why The Perfect Time To Pray Is When You Don’t Want To Pray

It’s 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia, so the sky is still black and the air still crisp as we drive.  We park in the vast, empty lot before the big, dark church, and we walk into the warm, yellow light of the chapel.  About 20 or so teenagers are already seated, but everyone is silent and still.  A few minutes pass before Father Mark enters with Mrs. Moreau, the petite French woman who wears a black lace veil over her hair and speaks with a thick accent.  She holds the golden Book of Gospels high above her head and processes, with the priest, down the center aisle toward the altar.  It is 6:30 in the morning in March in Virginia and 15-year-old me is here to worship.

Why the Perfect Time to Pray_1Growing up, my church celebrated these early morning Masses each Wednesday during Lent and Advent.  I dreaded it each Tuesday night as I set my alarm.  I regretted it each Wednesday morning as I showered while the rest of my family slept.  I loved it, however, the second we pulled into the parking lot and saw the light spilling from that one room in the otherwise dark church.  Even at age 15, I sensed that something special was happening in that chapel before the sun came up.  

The Mass always ran swiftly.  Given the hour, my usual anxious thoughts weren’t awake yet, and every word and movement of the liturgy amazed me.  Isaiah’s poetry and Paul’s arguments.  Mrs. Moreau’s deep bow before the altar.  The splash of red wine as the priest filled the golden chalice.  The echo of young voices praying to “our Father, who art in heaven.”  The feel of my friends’ hands, some soft and some sharp, as we offered peace. Then, finally, the priest’s long arms drawing the sign of the cross over us and his deep voice telling us to “go in peace to love and serve the Lord.”

At the time, I assumed our church leaders were teaching us some legalistic lesson about the importance of Mass attendance.

Now, some 15 years later, I know different.  

They were telling us:

This is where you come.  

This is to whom you come.

In the middle of the night, when you can’t see the way forward, when you’re anxious for the sun to rise, desperate for the Son to rise.

You come to God.

The youth minister, the priest, and even Mrs. Moreau knew that we would all, with time, experience the darkness and the ugliness of the world.  They knew that, in those moments, we would desire the light and beauty of the divine.  They knew that we would need God, and we would need to know how to reach Him.

So, they invited us and encouraged us to come together in prayer, even on a weekday, even before 7 in the morning.  And, now, I extend the same invitation to you.  

I invite you to pray, even when you don’t want to, especially when you don’t want to.  

Because, if we practice communing with God on our good days, it is a lot easier to commune with Him on our bad days.  

We’ll know where to search for Him.  We’ll know by which name to call Him.  We’ll know how to recognize the sound of His voice, the signs of His presence.

I have not seen Father Mark or Mrs. Moreau in well over a decade, but I recall and appreciate them each Lent.  Since high school, I have had several moments full of pre-dawn darkness and, thanks to them, I knew how to reach for God.  

It doesn’t often involve driving to church before 7 in the morning.  But it does involve whispering the Lord’s name, opening the Word, taking the Eucharist, sitting in sacred silence, and accepting peace from my neighbor.    

To be fair, there was never a Wednesday morning in high school when I leapt out of bed, eager to leave the comfort of my own house to rush to church.  There was also never a Wednesday morning that I left the chapel feeling less of the Lord’s joy and peace.  And, there has never been a day since that I longed for the Lord and could not locate Him. 

 

2 Questions to Consider for Ash Wednesday… and Lent and Easter and Everyday

2 Questions to Consider for Ash Wednesday_2Something big is coming.

Something life-changing.

Something world-changing.

As a general rule, I hate change.  I am quick to judge and slow to warm.  Transitions are tough for me.

These days, however, I am craving a change.  My anxiety, some of it my own creation and some of it borrowed from the outside world, has left me weary.  I’m eager for a fresh start. I’m excited for the something big.

As with most things, there is good news and bad news.  I’ll start with the bad: the something big requires a lot of work.  Think of how your body feels after a run: chest heaving, shins aching, hair sticking to your hot cheeks.  Imagine if your soul felt like that. The something big demands that sort of effort, exertion.  Now, for the good news: the something big comes with countless gifts.  Think of how your body feels after a shower: skin soft, muscles relaxed, hair dripping down your bare back.  Imagine if your soul felt like that.  The something big can cleanse you, calm you, heal you.

Even I’m okay with that kind of change.

Preparations for the something big start in 7 days, on March 1, with Ash Wednesday. Christians from the Catholic and Protestant traditions will spread ashes across their foreheads in acknowledgment of their iniquity and mortality.  Just like Job, they will pray, “I despise myself,/ and repent in dust and ashes” (Job 42:6).  

For approximately 40 days thereafter, us Christians will undertake certain sacrifices and practices to grow closer to God.  We will do so in the example of Jesus, who “was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil” (Luke 4:1b-2a).

Then, on Sunday, April 16, we will celebrate the biggest something that ever was: Easter. Just as Peter did some 2,000 years ago, we will get up and run to the tomb; stoop and look in, [and] see the linen cloths by themselves.  We will return home, amazed at what has happened (see Luke 24:12).

How will you prepare to fully experience and embrace the something big?  

If you’re not sure how to prepare, reflect on the questions below.  Your preparation may involve sacrificing something (e.g., alcohol, makeup, social media, etc) for the 40 days. Or, your preparation may involve doing something new (e.g., volunteering with a local charity, reading a devotional, calling your grandma, etc).  The questions below helped me make my own Lenten commitments, and I hope they will help you prepare appropriately for Easter. I pray that, when the something big does come, it will change us and our world like never before.

Questions

  1. How can I better love and serve God?
    • What practices help me connect with God (e.g., studying the Bible, walking a labyrinth, keeping a journal, etc)?
    • Can I engage in these practices more frequently?
    • If so, how can I make time and space for these practices?
  2. How can I better love and serve my neighbor?
    • Have I demonstrated all the fruits of of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, etc)?
    • If not, how can grow in one or more of these fruits?
    • Is there a particular relationship in my personal or professional life that needs particular attention or effort right now?
    • Is there a need in my local or national community that I can address?
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