Tuesday, March 8, 2011

lent begins tomorrow

Lent begins tomorrow. I have prepared a series of reflections that span its duration. Feel free to download the e-book by clicking here. I will post each day's reflections here on t(r)oymarbles also. I'd love it if you prayed through the season with me.

Following are the introductory words from the devotional. I hope Lent proves meaningful to you. Sincerely, Troy


St. Anselm was born in 1033. He became Archbishop of Canterbury in 1093 and remained so until his death in 1109. In the decade preceding his archbishopric, he wrote a collection of prayers and meditations that are still cherished today. The prayers and meditations contained in this booklet have Anselm’s as their inspiration.

Anselm features prominently in the medieval scholastic period. This was a period marked by intense theological development. In this period theologians began their reflection from the standpoint of faith. From there, the medieval scholar sought to understand the why’s and how’s of faith. The title of this booklet is derived from the medieval scholastic motto: “Faith, seeking understanding.”

Anselm’s quote above also reflects this notion nicely: “I believe so that I may understand.” You will notice the medieval scholar did not seek to replace faith with understanding; rather, they sought to simply understand the reasons for their belief. The medieval scholastic did not exercise his mind to merely demonstrate intellectual prowess, though we often view them that way now; the point was to grow in devotion to the God who created intellect.

Nowadays, we want to show something is true before we believe it; in Anselm’s era, they understood that we can only apprehend truth by believing. Before you start being too skeptical about this way of thinking about it, stop and reflect a minute: some things are only understood by first-hand experience and first-hand experience is often only entered into as we exercise faith.

For example, we cannot completely understand the nature of love without experiencing it and you cannot experience love without taking a risk called faith. We can never prove that someone loves us, scientifically or logically. There is always an element of faith involved in love. We can talk about it and mentally dissect it, but the best way to know love is to experience it. Similarly, if you want to understand heat, it is easier to hold your hand over a flame than to describe it with words or equations. The prayers and meditations in this booklet are aimed to encourage you to put your hand over the candle’s lit wick, not just to think about it.

How To Use This Guide

These words summarize the best way to use this guide. It has been said that the best way to pray is to pray with your whole being. One way to do this is to acknowledge that we can pray with our mind, heart and will. In this instance, one would first pray with one’s mind. This movement in prayer is aimed at seeking to hold in one’s mind certain simple, yet specific truths. “Chewing” here involves taking one’s time to digest truths we may have previously taken for granted because we haven’t simply taken the time to chew before. It involves slowing down and meditating on even a few short thoughts, making connections, wondering about things.

Then there is the second “movement” in prayer: the move from mind to heart. This is the “seek to understand” part of prayer. It is more than just knowing something in one’s mind, it is knowing it on the level of your heart, making connections with your own life. What do you hear Jesus saying to you, personally?

Finally, in the third movement of prayer, we move into the spirit, where our will is seated. Here “deep calls to deep” and love is engaged. Love is more than a feeling; it is a choice, it involves our will. Feelings may or may not come when we choose to let God love us or when we make the choice to just love God. Do not worry about the feelings; just focus on the act of loving and being loved. This is how we “swallow”, Anselm instructs.

He goes on to remind us that we should “be glad” to chew, “be thankful” to suck and “rejoice” to swallow. Let these attitudes permeate the three movements of prayer in mind, heart and will. Do not begrudge these three movements but be glad, be thankful and rejoice. Indeed, only by doing so can we enter into the spirit of true prayer.

Because of the truths we’ve noted so far, I’ve written these reflections in short, bite-sized segments so you have time to chew, suck and swallow. I’ve put some different names to Anselm’s pattern, but the pattern you’ll find in this booklet is basically the same pattern he suggests. Practically speaking, this is why I’ve tried to include certain stopping points in each day’s prayers, so you’ll have time to go beyond just thinking about what’s said, in hopes of leading you to the first-hand experience of receiving God’s love. Only in the real-life encounter of God’s love can one understand what it means to abide in God’s love throughout the day.

Let me orient you now, to the specifics of each day’s pattern as you’ll find it in this booklet. First, you will begin by Believing & Praying. This comes first to reflect the notion that we do better when we ask our faith to seek understanding, rather than trying it the other way around.Even the order of “believing” followed by “praying” in this first movement is intentional. Before you can enter into any kind of prayer, you’ve got to believe. In fact, the moment you believe there is a God who wants to hear your prayer is the moment you begin praying. So, before rushing in to utter the words of the prayer at the top of the page, take a moment to collect your thoughts and focus your heart on the fact that “God is” and that he desires to hear what your heart is about to say to him. Then, pray the prayer slowly, perhaps even two or three times before moving on to the next part. The prayers are even short enough that they can be memorized.

Next, you will Seek Understanding. This is where I have provided some thoughts and images for you to chew on. If what I have written proves a distraction to you and hinders deeper reflection on the essence of the prayer, skip this part. If you find what I’ve written helpful, do not read it in a rushed fashion. The reflections are intentionally simple and concise so you have time to “sit with” the ideas. Make mental note of where your own life corresponds to what’s written.

After the reflection in which you’ve sought understanding, it is time to Hear and Believe. This part of the process invites you to meditate on a short portion of Scripture that helps to further draw out the meaning of the preceding prayer and meditation. The goal in this part of the process is to “hear God”. Stay with the Scripture until it becomes personal to you, until it becomes as if God has said something just to you through it. Then, when you hear this, believe it.

In believing what God says to you, we are better able to appropriate God’s Love for us. Love represents the height of the process each day, everything else in the day’s prayers and meditations are intended to build to this point. Allow yourself time to enter into this. For some of us, this will simply mean taking 90 seconds to dwell on something that only took 8 seconds to read. Often, I will remind you in this movement that “You have time. Don’t be in a hurry.” And, you do. Just slow down for once! The world will still be there when you get back, don’t worry.

Having received God’s love and having loved him in return for a brief time, we come full circle. Now that you know what it is to receive and give love, you can simply Pray. There is no striving anymore. Go on praying the day’s prayer throughout the day. Or, if you’ve used this guide to close your day, go on meditating on the prayer until you fall asleep.

All this might sound complicated to you, but it isn’t, rest assured. Even if you only set aside 10 minutes each day to enter into this simple pattern of prayer, your heart will thank you for it (and the prayers are simple enough that they can stick with you beyond those 10 minutes).

About Lent

These prayers can, of course, be used any time of year, but they were specifically written to help people enter into the season of Lent. Because of that, you will see that there are no “dates” posted at the top of each day’s prayer time. Instead, each day is labeled according to the six weeks of Lent. If you are unsure what date Lent begins (it varies from year to year), I have provided a guide in the appendix to help you with this. Having said that, do not let that deter you from using this booklet other parts of the year, if you wish. With that in mind, however, let me make a few notes about Lent and its traditional themes.

Following Jesus in the twenty-first century involves wrapping one’s own life around the person, work and story of Jesus (or, alternately, letting Jesus wrap his life around yours). In either case, the story of Jesus continues in the family of Jesus. As the family of Jesus keeps telling his story, we remind ourselves of our common identity.

One way to keep telling the story of Jesus is to orient the weeks of the year in such a way that we, in a sense, re-live the Christ-event annually. Throughout history, Christians have begun this annual retelling of the Jesus-story by observing a period of four weeks called Advent. During Advent, the Christian lets his or her life reflect themes that pertain to the birth of Christ. The beginning of the Christian calendar is the Christmas season.

After Advent, the Christian observes a period of time called Epiphany. Epiphany means
“Aha! I see it!” It is the time when the Messianic nature of Jesus of Nazareth becomes clear to the world through the teachings and miracles of Jesus. During this time, we especially recall the Three Wise Men who had an “Aha!” moment when they saw the star indicating the advent of the King of kings. This manifestation led them to worship the Christ.

And then there is Lent. The Gospel writers spend the greatest portion of their pages focused on the events of Jesus’ last week leading up to and including his crucifixion. There is no Christianity without the suffering of Jesus and the cross. The crucifixion is so wondrous it is like a diamond—you can turn it many ways to see new faces reflected, new colors, new dimensions. For this reason, the sufferings and crucifixion of Jesus deserve a full six weeks of reflection. This is Lent; it is all about the cross of Christ.

Because of that, Lent is a time in which Christians identify with the suffering of Jesus through giving up something that is comforting or comfortable to them. For some, this would be food (especially certain types of food such as chocolate). Others, on the other hand, may choose to give up something like television or computer games.

In either case, this discipline is called fasting and it is intended to help us identify with the deprivation Jesus experienced in his suffering as well as the attachment that worldly deprivation can foster between oneself and God. You will notice that I say the discipline of fasting helps us “identify” with Jesus. These disciplines are in no way intended to convey the notion that you “must” perform them to earn salvation. They are simply ways in which we can grow in our attachment to Jesus who is the Author and Perfecter of our faith. Fasting simply helps us appreciate what Jesus has done on our behalf. That is why it is included in the Lenten disciplines.

Another discipline of Lent is almsgiving. Typically, the Christian during this season would identify with the sacrifice of Jesus by also giving sacrificially in some way. Of course, any sacrificial giving we make pales in comparison to the sacrifice Jesus made in giving up his very life, but we can at least come to appreciate his crucifixion more in our own lives as we identify in some small way with such generosity. You can see that, by actually participating in these spiritual disciplines, one is attempting to understand the wonder of our salvation more classically, by experience, rather than by a mere reading of books. This is what we noted at the outset of this introduction—the primacy of faith-experience in leading to understanding.

Finally, one other discipline of Lent is prayer. By intensifying our prayer life during Lent, we re-live the intense prayers of Jesus in the week leading up to his crucifixion and even the prayers he spoke while hanging on the cross. That is where this booklet comes in. It is written to help you pray.

Specifically, the prayer life of the Christian reflects themes of repentance and renewal during Lent. Because Lent focuses on the cross, it calls us to remember the reason Jesus died: to save us from our sins. It calls us to enter into confession of our sin. This is what the first day of Lent signifies. It is called Ash Wednesday and it helps us remember that sin leaves us “burnt up”. It calls us to sorrow over our sin and to admittance of our need. For that reason, Ash Wednesday commences a six-week long period in which all prayer can be summed up in one prayer: “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Again, we needn’t pray this prayer literally, but if we let the spirit of this prayer permeate our hearts, it will remind us what a great Savior we have and it can even provide us occasion for joy and freedom in the midst of a somber season. This prayer calls us to humility, to reminding us of our need. As needy children, we are then driven to the heart of our eternally forgiving Father. You can see, then, that this cry for mercy has the potential to foster an intense awareness of our need for God and, hence, a deep love relationship with God—if prayed from the heart. This love-encounter then transforms our lives, setting us free.

Lent is a heart time. Even if you leave off the disciplines of fasting and almsgiving, at least let it be a time of prayer, seeking God’s mercy and confessing your need for him. With that in mind, let us pray.

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