One Lenten season many years ago, I thought I was going to find something new every day to add to my list of things To Do and things Not To Do. I feared I’d have a list of 40 promises or practices to keep that Lenten season — one for each day of Lent.
I finally stopped adding dos and don’ts. That is possibly the (simplified) question this time of year: What can we do … or not do … to strengthen our relationship with God or focus on what He has done for us?
Or maybe it is “Lent as divine therapy,” as one religious leader put it.
Father Thomas Keating says, “It’s a time to look what our instinctual needs are, look at what the dynamics of our unconscious are. The church is hinting in the first Sunday of Lent that Lent is about temptation, or what we think is temptation. It’s about the raw experience of human instincts, and how they unconsciously influence our conduct and decisions all our life long unless we keep working with them.
“Lent is a time to renew wherever we are in that process that I call the divine therapy.”
Father Keating, a Trappist monk at St. Benedict’s monastery in Snowmass, Colorado, is a co-founder of the centering prayer movement. He was interviewed on the website Beliefnet by producer Anne A. Simpkinson about the “contemplative dimensions of the Lenten season.” She asked if the common practices of Lent—such as giving up chocolate or meat—are only scratching the surface.
“Yes, but if you scratch the surface and find out there’s something underneath, it’s helpful that way,” he answered with a laugh. “It seems to me that scratching the surface of the unconscious, allowing a few cracks to show, hastens the evacuation (of emotions tied to the false self), and is a good thing.”
So, depriving yourself can lead to defining yourself better. It can lead to a better understanding of yourself, your faith, and your God.
Lent is not commonly practiced in all Christian churches, of course. Having been raised as a Baptist, I was curious why we hadn’t observed Lent. I asked a Baptist minister who said that during the Protestant movement, the Liturgical Calendar was mostly dismissed.
“There are some things we left behind that we should have brought with us,” said the reverend. He’s adopted the practice of Lent, as well as celebrating holidays on the Jewish calendar with friends at the synagogue.
Another minister agreed that churches don’t observe the Christian calendar year. “They are not likely to do in worship or discipleship anything missing from Scripture either by precept or example. There is no command to observe Lent,” he said.
Whatever their denomination, some people may not feel the need to observe Lent. It isn’t a requirement for the Christian life, nor is it limited to that belief. For any person who wants to scratch their surface and allow the cracks to show, it may be a genuine time of personal growth. It may provide a time for not only analyzing your mental or emotional health as you might in therapy, but for analyzing your very soul.
Jaletta Albright Desmond is a columnist who writes about faith, family, and the fascinatingly mundane aspects of daily life. She lives in Davidson with her family. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.