SummaryAre you seeking fresh ideas for Lent to deepen your lenten journey? Avellina Balestri shares five spiritual exercises to implement during this holy season.
Lent is the Christian season of penitence, traditionally practiced through the triple disciplines of fasting, prayer, and almsgiving.
It recalls the 40 days that Christ spent in the desert to prepare for His earthly ministry. For those partaking in the season, it is common to give up something in particular. However, it should also be emphasized that adding new practices of spiritual devotion is equally fitting for this sacred period of cleansing, contemplation, and renewal.
The following are some of my personal practices and concepts that I have used to deepen my Lenten Journey:
1. Carry a small stone or piece of coal around with you in your pocket or purse.
Not only is this evocative of the “ashes and dust” referred to on Ash Wednesday, but in Celtic tradition, burnt out embers were used to symbolize angels (since “ember” and “angel” had the same root word in Irish Gaelic) and were often carried as a symbol of spiritual guidance in times of persecution.
Stones in general have great symbolic meaning in the Judeo-Christian world. Moses brought forth water from a rock when leading the children of Israel across the desert, demonstrating life brought from death.
In contrast, Christ was tempted to turn stones into loaves of bread during His sojourn in the wilderness, but in refusing to do so, He embraced His own destiny of death, and the blood He would sweat upon the rock of Gethsemane.
So carrying a stone keeps us mindful of our own inevitable passing from this world, and the “stones of remembrance” that will one day stand over us when we are laid to rest in sacred ground.
It also is reminiscent of the Japanese practice of piling stones to remember deceased ancestors.
However, rocks symbolize victory as well; victory of the shepherd boy David who defied the mighty Goliath with five small stones; victory of Christ’s presence on earth, which if not acknowledged by man, would have been acclaimed by the very rocks; and most importantly, the victory over death wrought by Christ when the great stone over the tomb rolled back on Easter Sunday.
2. Take in more spiritually-focused reading material, music, and cinematic productions.
Nourish your soul this Lent, especially when you may be physically fasting.
There is a myriad of deeply edifying artistic material to delve into, but oftentimes we become side-tracked by more trivial variations.
Not all media need be directly and overtly religious during Lent, but should put one in a state of mind to contemplate deeper realities that emanate from God, such as the meaning of sacrificial love and redemptive suffering for a greater cause.
3. In all things, see God.
Throughout the day, keep either a written diary or take simple mental notes on all the things you have seen and how they make you think of God.
This can be in the form of enjoyable things (you see the first flower of spring and think of God’s glory as Creator and Sustainer of all life) or not-so-enjoyable things (you’re fasting, and you think of how Jesus fasted); acts of goodness (you see someone stopping the car to save a stray kitten on the road, or someone helping an elderly woman with her paperwork in a doctor’s office, and you see the hearts of humanity reflecting the Heart of God), or acts of evil (you watch a news report about terrorism, or crime, or ruthless indifference, and you see Christ being nailed to the Cross all over again).
Then reflect upon how you yourself are going to reflect God’s love in your own life, to bring His “Kingdom Come.”
Learn to discern God’s presence in “all that is, and all that is not”; seek Him out in the most unlikely places in the distant confines of this world. See Him in the untamed ecstasy of nature and the tumultuous whirlpool of movement on city streets. See Him in eyes that reflect unbounded sky and in those that cannot see past their next appointment.
See Him through the cracks of cynicism and pain. See Him in the tortured souls and those who have found peace. See Him in all beings, for we are all His children.
4. Have courage and be kind.
I know, I know, Disney-simplified philosophy, you may say. But it’s true. The two must go together, for it takes courage to be truly kind. Kindness is not some sort of weak, wobbly-kneed virtue. Love is kind, and love is the strongest thing there is, the essence of the Divine, for God is Love.
Be there for others who need you; start conversations with others even when you’re tired, even when you don’t particularly feel akin to the person.
Be patient; be a good listener. Touch base with those long-lost contacts from years gone by on your Facebook list; share a memory you’ve had with them, and show that you still care.
Try to strengthen the relationships you have, help your family more, and strive to sacrifice of yourself for their benefit. Go the extra mile to maintain communication, to heal old wounds, and mend broken bridges. Learn to apologize and to put yourself in others’ shoes.
Reach beyond your comfort zones. Make friends from different schooling backgrounds, religious beliefs, ethnic origins, and political persuasions. Share with them the love of Christ that cuts through walls separating one from another.
Try to seek out the best in them, and give the best that is in yourself. Have courage, stand up for the oppressed, the downtrodden, the abused, in whatever way best suits your calling, whether hands-on, from a distance, or a bit of both.
Use prudential judgment in all that you do, but also remember never to judge too fast nor hold your fists too tightly clenched. Set aside some of your money to spend in charitable exercises. Have Masses said for the living and the dead, purchase small spiritual gifts for those in your life, and write up a note of blessing on each one.
Write out all the special things you can remember about that person, and tell that person you are thankful to God for their presence in your life.
5. Be what God made you to be, and you will set the world on fire.
You have a calling in your life, and are on the constant journey to bring that to fruition. In this season of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving, consider yourself in a state of discernment.
And I don’t just mean discerning whether you are called to marry or enter into religious life; I mean discern, on a daily basis, what God wants you to do, how He wants you to spend your waking hours.
Every single day of our lives presents us with opportunities to grow in grace by reaching out to others. “Inspire my heart to do Your will,” the old ejaculation goes. Human beings are born sub-creators, and in all our works God can be present within us and flowing out through us.
For me personally, as an editor, writer, singer, and musician, my sub-creation is about collecting and crafting stories that will leave a meaningful impact, and that ultimately will make people think upon the nature of love, and therefore God. So intensify your prayer life and prioritize your time.
Let your former idleness become a time of sacred stillness, when you can clear your mind of earthly worries and listen for the voice of the Holy Spirit.
Pray the traditional prayers of the Church, such as the Act of Contrition, frequently; make the Sign of the Cross with enhanced reverence. Consecrate your body, mind, heart, and soul to the Sacred and Immaculate Hearts. Keep a crucifix in sight at home and focus on it. Meditate on it.
Spread out your arms and lean your back against the wall alongside it. Ask Christ to take all the strength of your pride and transform it into the tenderness of His Love. Ask Him to live, and breathe, and move in you, every day of your life.
Let the Lamb of God be the blood-red flowers in your gritty, golden desert, the piercing light upon your storm-clouded path.