Jesus was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts and the angels waited on him.
In just two weeks, the season of Lent begins, a time in the Christian calendar patterned after the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness.
Lent is a season of intention. Rarely do we drift into our intentions, but rather consciously choose them. Sometimes they seem to choose us–they show up somehow and demand our attention. We can ignore them, but that’s our choice. If we’re paying attention, the call is clear.
Now is a good time to consider what practices Jesus might be putting before you this Lent. A word of friendly counsel from your bishop: don’t go it alone. Lent is not a self-improvement program, but a season to open ourselves to the transforming power of grace to heal us and our world. There’s more at stake than we can see on our own. We need one another.
Congregations across the diocese are working now to provide meaningful worship services, opportunities for deeper study and spiritual conversation, quiet days and retreat. Avail yourself of them this Lent. You won’t be sorry.
Begin by attending a worship service on Ash Wednesday, a communal reminder that we are mortal and in need of forgiveness, and that it matters how we live each day. Some of us will go public on Ash Wednesday, meeting those outside our doors with prayer and ashes. Ashes-to-go is not a replacement for communal prayer, but an expression of our desire to follow Jesus into the neighborhood.
40 days is long enough for a practice to become a habit. So why not give the Holy Spirit room to change your life by choosing a practice with the most transformative potential? Again, if you want the practice to stick and transform more lives than your own, take it on with other people. Even if the practice that speaks to you is private prayer, find others similarly called and gently hold one another accountable.
Here’s an invitation for communal practice from Presiding Bishop Michael Curry. Adding his voice to that of Christian leaders across a broad spectrum of faith, Bishop Curry calls upon all Episcopalians and people of faith to join him in a season prayer, fasting, and repentance that leads to action on behalf of our nation. He writes:
Our appeal comes during a time of profound division and genuine crisis of national character. This is not a matter of party or partisanship, but of deep concern for the soul of America. . . For me, this call is rooted in my personal commitment to practice Jesus’s Way of Love, by which I turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go and rest in the way of our savior.
Imagine the potential for good if every one of us prayed, fasted, and chose to act for the good of all. For that reason, I have accepted the Presiding Bishop’s invitation. I want to do my part to heal the divides of this nation. If you feel the same, add your name and receive daily devotions beginning on Ash Wednesday here.
Whatever your intention, remember that the best practices typically start small. “The great secret of the spiritual life,” writes Henri Nouwen, “is that we already know the little steps. . . We don’t need to know the big steps to take the little steps. We only have to take one step at a time.”
I’m honored to walk with you, step by faithful step, this Lent and always.