Lent is next week!

A friend who has an awesome podcast, put out a question to listeners and guests:

“What has inspired your Lenten devotions in years gone by?  What “works” for you during Lent? Do you have a books/prayers/retreats/ to recommend?  Have you found creative ways to help you pray/fast/ and give alms or do works of charity?”

Lent is a week away, and I haven’t fully planned my Lenten devotions for this year, but it will probably include fasting from “screen-time,” especially mindless TV surfing, which so often leads me to waste the gift of time that could be spent so much more fruitfully.

In the past, the Lenten seasons that had the most impact were those where I didn’t try to do everything and the kitchen sink.  Fruitful Lents were when I focused my Lenten exercises to work on a specific area that I wanted to change or improve, or where I took on a devotion/practice that I wanted to become part of my life.  For me, during Lent, less is definitely more.

For example, one year, while still in college, I decided that I wanted to get more out of Mass, because, although I liked going to Sunday Mass, often I felt more like a spectator, a “pew-potato,” if you will.  So for Lent I picked up a book, Guardini’s Meditations Before Mass (now available as Preparing Yourself for Mass) and I committed to going to daily Mass.  That Lent was filled with gifts and blessings that still reverberate in my life today.

Prayer Corner

my morning prayer spot

Another year, I focused on creating space for prayer.  I decided to set aside 30 minutes every morning for a combination of spiritual reading and prayer.  At first, I noticed that I was spending way too much time looking at the clock (gee, it has only been two minutes? Wow, twenty minutes to go …etc).  I decided to get an egg timer, set it for thirty minutes and hide the clock.  At first, there was much reading and very little prayer or meditation.  But slowly the pattern changed and I would slowly read a short passage and allow it to inform my prayer.  To this day, I set aside 30 minutes every morning (now using my iPod to set a timer) and using a lectio divina form of prayer using readings for the Mass of the day.  And now, I find that the timer is not to make sure I pray for 30 minutes, but that I get moving in time to make it to morning Mass.

Of course, every year there is some fasting, such as giving up chocolate or beer or some specific type of food, or giving up in between meal snacking. It is just a great reminder to be grateful that I  have the choice to give up some food, especially  when there are people who simply have no food to give up and go to bed hungry.  It is so easy to take blessing for granted.  But you can also give up things like internet or TV or Facebook or limiting their use, which will be part of what I will do this year.  Of course, along with giving up something, you should also give something away.  Almsgiving can be as simple as writing a check or bringing food to a pantry to actually giving of your time.  Or if you decide to give up snacks or smoking or coffee, put the money you would have spent in a jar.  At the end of Lent, give the jar to your favorite charity. Perhaps you can buy two sandwiches for lunch and give one to the panhandler on the street (or better yet, see if he would like some company for lunch and share some conversation as well. You would be amazed at some of the wisdom that can be found on our city streets.

But if I had one recommendation to give, I would say: keep it simple.  Do one thing in each category: pray, fast, give alms and just be open for God to speak to you.  So, what is your recommendation for Lent?  Share in the combox!

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