I remember the first time I encountered the practice of Lent. The very first year I tried giving up sugar. I set out to read more scripture and pray more as a replacement, in an attempt to draw nearer to God. To my dismay, I failed horribly. As the years went on and Lenten seasons came and went, my practice of Lent did too. I always attempted to give something up, and consistently failed. Not only did the guilt heap up on me, the shame washed over me in droves. Eventually I gave up. The shame was too much. The observance of Lent for me I decided was to be put on hold until something changed within me. Until it became less like checking a box and more about drawing nearer to the Cross.
It wasn’t until a couple of years ago that I decided I was ready to take up the practice once again. Mostly catalyzed by the fact that I started attending an Anglican Church, this time I was dead set on figuring out how to make it worth while. I wanted to know how to use the Lenten season as a time to draw nearer to God. And, by the grace of God, I managed to make it through the season without watching Netflix.
What changed? A wise friend advised me that my thought process around Lent, and the purpose of Lent needed to change. She went on to say that Lent is a blessed season for us to not only cut something out of our lives but to ask God to enter into the space that is left. For example, if we give up sugar, we ask God that we might begin to see him as the sweetness in life. If we cut Netflix out, we ask that God would show himself as our true escape, that we would spend more time with him, losing ourselves and our sense of time in his love and grace. Lent then became more about emptying my cup of all the frivolous things I had filled it with and asking God throughout the lenten season to fill my cup up with His soul satisfying love.
Little did I know she was right on par with what Benedict seeks to communicate in his Rule on the Observance of Lent. It’s not about ticking a box, it’s about clearing the way to make room for God’s presence, not just for the 40 days, but for the rest of the year.
Given my history with Lenten failures, when I saw that Benedict had written on the Observance of Lent, I was all ears. I was eager to learn how to better engage with this practice and draw nearer to God. However, what struck me was how little time he spent on this particular practice, given the weight in which many churches today have given it. I was almost disappointed. I had hoped he would have offered more sage advice that would plunge me into my next Lenten success. The more that I thought about it, the more I realized the reason why Benedict spends so little time on Lent. What we as modern Christians view as specific sacrificial challenges relegated to the two short months pre-Easter, the Benedictine Order had adopted year round. The sage advice and guidelines I was looking for from Benedict for Lent was actually the entire order, the whole Rule.
And so I thought. And pondered. And questioned. What I have traditionally thought was to occur at Lent, a giving up and emptying out of what is distracting me, is - if we take on the Benedictine spirituality - to occur all the other days of the year. Lent for Benedict was just an additive, a time to think of what one could give up that was not already required of them by their order. The Rule of St. Benedict in all of its glory would have me doing Lent like things 365 days of the year in order to reorder my life not just within a 40 day span.
So what is stopping us from observing Lent year round, and why bother with Lent if our lives should look like that 365 days out of the year?