Spiritual Exercises for the 40 Days (part I)

Next week, for our Wednesday Night Forum at my church, we’re doing a class/workshop on exploring spiritual disciplines or exercises. So my head has been turning around the different ways that we can explore the who we are as beloved of God, and how we can go deeper in relationship with Christ. A fellow blogger, Melissa, over at Sacred Screaming did a list of 40 Spiritual Practices for Lent. I really liked her ideas! And I wanted to take a stab at making my own list.

I’ve really struggled, over the years, at keeping up a Spiritual Discipline or Practice during the season of Lent. When I’ve succeeded, it’s often been more like a “religious diet,” where I abstain from chocolate or sugar for the season, but then, as soon as the Easter Vigil is over go head first into a fountain filled with chocolate a la the Vicar of Dibley. So I wanted this list to be something that I can draw from (and maybe you can too!) that offers a way in rather than a cutting off of. The idea being that if these work, great, but if they don’t, that’s okay too. An invitation rather than a checklist, expansion rather than restriction. It’s now almost 11:30PM on Ash Wednesday and I need to go to bed, so the list is just a starter, getting through Day 15. If you’ve got ideas I should add in the coming days, give a shout out in the comments section! And away we go…

Day One: Be present. For the season, for the ashes, for worship. The season of Lent, like all of our liturgical year, can only begin to be understood through the lens that we are a resurrected people. We believe that new life comes forth from places of death. So be present to the places that are dying or need to die, and offer them up the season, to see how God may create new life.

Day Two: Pray the Daily Office. For Episcopalians, it is at the core of our liturgical life. Praying it, over time, is a wonderful way to be formed, to be shaped by the liturgy and by prayer. If you have a Book of Common Prayer and a Bible, you’re good to go. If you don’t, or prefer to pray online, you can do that too.

Day Three: Walk. Go for a walk around the block, to clear your head, to listen for God, to be present with God’s creation.

Day Four: Follow “Journey to the Cross” an online special devotional for Lent/Easter, sponsored in part by the Episcopal Church . Journey to the Cross features Scripture, music and a brief meditation.

Day Five: Practice the art of forgiveness. Easier said that done. And in my brief experience, it is best done over time. Forgive us our sins and we forgive those who sin against us, so the prayer goes. The best way I know to forgive is to pray for the people with whom we struggle. Someone I heard recently suggested that you imagine the person whom you need to forgive as a small helpless child, and make that part of the focus of your prayer, remembering the child, the innocence and innate goodness that is found in all people, especially as children.

Day Six: Let go. Give away some of your books. Clean out a closet. Get rid of some of that extra stuff that can weigh a life down. John the Baptist reminds us that if we have two coats to give one away (I have upwards of 7, but hey, I live in Chicago). Lord I am preaching to myself here.

Day Seven: Listen for God in the Scripture. An easy way to delve into the Scripture is using the technique of Lectio Divina, which is Latin for divine or spiritual reading or “holy reading.” Pick a passage. Read it the first time, asking yourself what word or phrase jumps out at you. Then do it again. After another reading, ask yourself what it may be saying to your life. There are a gazillion websites out there on Lectio Divina. And there’s not a right or wrong way to do this, just a way to begin.

Day Eight: Fast. Abstain from something for a season or for a day. Chocolate, alcohol or time-sucking websites come to mind. Spend the fasting time doing something life giving like reading or calling a friend.

Day Nine: Use what you already have. My cabinets are full to the brim with Trader Joe’s cans of black beans, diced tomatoes and cornbread mix. Make dinner out of what’s already in the pantry. Donate the money you would’ve spent to a charity like Episcopal Relief and Development, which is doing work in many parts of the world, like Haiti.

Day Ten: Read Matthew 4: 25-5:10, the Beatitudes.

Day Eleven: Journal. In Katherine Stockett’s book, The Help, one of the characters keeps a prayer journal, writing all her prayers to God. I love this idea. But prayer journal or just plain old journal, I think the act of writing allows us to get in touch with a deeper sense of self and God.

Day Twelve: Find a new ministry or volunteer somewhere–in the church, in the neighborhood, do something to be of service to the Body of Christ, or to people who may see Christ through your actions. For those of us who love Disney, there’s even a reward for serving!

Day Thirteen: In all honesty, I don’t know how good these meditations are, but a cyber pal says they are good. Inner Divine Spirit is a website by a Jungian analyst. You can read on the site or have her meditations on Scriptures from a Jungian viewpoint emailed directly to your mailbox (I signed up for them today).

Day Fourteen:
Put on your favorite music and sing and dance! (I recommend replacing the harp/lyre with the kazoo.)
Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises.
Sing praises to the Lord with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody.
With trumpets and the sound of the horn
make a joyful noise before the King, the Lord. (Psalm 98)

Day Fifteen: Watch Buffy, Season 5, the last episode, The Gift. A beautiful story of the power of self-sacrifice. I see Jesus on the cross every time I watch this. Seriously. I think of it, in many ways, as a modern version of the stations of the cross (it has been used in a pop-culture telling/showing of the Stations). If you don’t know the back story of Buffy or of Season 5, let me know–I’ll happily fill you in!

More to come…

2 thoughts on “Spiritual Exercises for the 40 Days (part I)

  1. This is great….and I'm going to use it. Last year my Lenten discipline was a total FAIL…largely, I think, because of the HUGE stress I was under, but this year I've been floundering for no discernible reason in trying to decide what I should do. So thanks.

    And I do remember the chocolate gorge after the Easter Vigil junior year…it really was good!


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