The season of LENT is drawing nigh. How do you respond to this word? Do you think of going without, denial, fasting and how you should perhaps give up chocolate, coffee or alcohol? Are there any associated feelings of dread at how life will feel diminished? Or the associated guilt that arises from not even trying, or perhaps trying and then failing?
Here's another way of thinking about Lent. The word comes from old English for 'lengthen' referring to the days lengthening as the sun (in the Northern Hemisphere) casts it's light for longer. Now this is a good thing, especially if you're a S.A.D. sufferer like two of my family members. So this idea of lengthening days would imply that there is to be more light and that there is more space in our day. This is surely a good thing.
For the busy Westerner 'longer days' can be quickly filled and this is where the spiritual meaning of Lent can guide us. This time of lengthening is not intended to be filled with more 'stuff' (more activities, more purchases, more pleasure, more, more, more). Rather the model given by Jesus is of less, and the worldly adage echoes that 'less is more'.
So how can we meaningfully engage with Lent - whether we are traditional Christians or open spiritual seekers? Lent is a time to initially self-reflect (what is taking up my time and energy and do I really want it to?). Then it is a time to let-go. To give up those things that take up time and space in our daily lives and in our hearts and minds so that we simplify our lives. This is so that we create space, space which is to remain space where we have fewer claims on our time and attention. This is where most people stop and think that Lent is about denial, or at best a leaner body. It's actually about so much more.
This letting-go, simplification and space is for an ultimate purpose - Divine Presence. It is not so that we feel diminished, impoverished or guilty, but it is actually to make space for what really matters. What we really ultimately long for: for peace, for love, for beauty and for connection and gratitude. Spiritually speaking, this is God, the source, expression and resource of all that we love so that Divine Presence will fill everything bringing all things to life.
This Lent I plan to 'let-go' of mental clutter (planning holidays, thinking about new ideas for Meaningful, surfing the net for the ideal pair of white trainers etc!) so that life is more simple and has more space. What I have found in previous Lent seasons where I've practised this, is that the space itself becomes filled with Divine Presence so that the means becomes the end and I sense God more closely with me day by day. In this way the simplifying of my daily life means that it gets filled - but filled with The right thing: God.
Perhaps there is a gentle whisper within of something that you can do, something you should do and something you actually really want to do in order to simplify and create space for Divine Presence this Lent? If so listen to the whisper as it is intended to bring more life and light into your life. This Lent let-go of distractions, simplify and create space so that God's presence can be with you.