As with every year, the season of Lent has made its quiet entry.
It started with Ash Wednesday on Feb. 17 and ends on April 3.
As a supposed time of purification, this year’s Lent, in the midst of COVID-19 pandemic, is especially heart-warming, as Christians are asked to renounce evil, reconcile with one’s fellow men and build harmony with the entire creation.
Lent is marked by prayer, fasting and good works that enable believers in Christ to bring about an exodus, a crossover from slavery to sin to a life of freedom and authenticity of being a child of God.
Lent is a time of year to remember that God has seen fit to make us not airy spirits, but embodied human beings living in a beautiful material world.
The soul fills the body the way fire fills a lump of coal and, what the body learns, the soul also absorbs.
Spiritual disciplines, such as fasting, are analogous to weightlifting equipment.
Those who use them in a disciplined way will be stronger, not just when they are lifting weights, but for every situation they encounter.
While some think of Lent as a time to personally choose something to “give up,” the practice of the Eastern Christians from the earliest centuries is to observe a common fast.
This is not a complete fast, but rather abstaining from meat and dairy — basically a vegan diet.
Some church fathers likened it to Daniel’s diet in the Old Testament, in king’s court when he abstained from meat and rich foods and grew stronger than those who feasted.
There’s something to be said for following an ancient, universal Lenten custom like this instead of choosing one’s own adventure.
Most of us are not capable of being our own spiritual directors. We don’t have the perspective needed to choose the things that will really change us.
But during Lent, a fast like this observed for 2,000 years in many lands is time-tested. In meaningful Lent observances, we are not only one with the church through time, but also with those in our local church.
It is not too much to say that, second only to personal faith in God, our human relationships are the most important thing in our lives.
We are generally happy when we are getting along reasonably well with other people and we are generally unhappy when we are not.
The chief reason many of us fail in this second-most important relationship in the world is that we have false idea of how to create good human relationships.
If we have a genuine criticism or objection, we should go to the person immediately involved and, with as much grace and good will as we can muster, take it up with him.
But what we usually do is to go to someone else, spill our gripes and criticisms in order to enlist sympathy, increase the mischief by half-truths, or even lies, and make a bad matter worse.
If a matter is not important enough to take up with the person involved, it is not important enough to take up with anybody. Much of such gossip is only a means to greater self-importance.
If we want a really good spiritual exercise this Lent season, let us start praying about dishonesty and double talk in human relationships. Let us go and repair them by “speaking the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15).
We cannot, of course, do this ourselves. We work naturally by affinity and by emotion. Only God can help us to work with concern and grace.
That is why human relationships must not resemble two dots at the end of a line, but two angles at the base of a triangle, with God at the apex. God must be in on every relationship if it is to be right.
Two things happen when God comes in on human relationships:
• We refer everything to the one who is perfectly just and sees the situation exactly as it is.
• Prayer opens up for us to see the situation more as it truly is, helping us to melt out of it unyielding and unjust attitudes and giving us generous and redemptive and fresh attitudes toward people.
God lifts us up into a creative and dynamic expectation, very different from our natural sullen self-justification.
Lenten disciplines train us like athletes, strengthening our earthly bodies and souls, healing the body of believers in our local parish and forging union with the body of Christ throughout time.
As Apostle Paul so inexorably deduced in one of his letters:
“Forgetting what lies behind (the sins of the past) … we press on to combat those sins that lie ahead, made stronger by our Lenten disciplines, for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).
Narayan Mitra is a volunteer chaplain at Thompson Rivers University. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.
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