As has become a tradition here on the blog, I’ve compiled a list of 40 ideas that I hope will help you make the most of this season of reflection, penitence, and preparation. Some ideas are repeats from previous years, while others are new. Please feel free to add your own ideas and recommendations in the comment section.
5 Questions to Ask Yourself:
1. When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different? What am I preparing for?
2. Is there something in my life—a habit, a grudge, a fear, a prejudice, an addiction, an emotional barrier, a form of excess—that keeps me from loving God with my heart, soul, mind, and strength and loving my neighbor as myself? How might I address that over the next 40 days?
3. Lent is a time to listen to God, but sometimes God speaks through others, particularly the poor, oppressed, marginalized, and suffering. To whom should I be listening this season? How can I cultivate a listening posture toward others whose perspective and experiences might differ from my own?
4. Is there a spiritual discipline—praying the hours, lectio divina, the examen—that I’ve always wanted to try? How might I alter my daily routine to include one of these disciplines?
5. The cycle of death and resurrection is central to the Christian faith. In what ways is that cycle present in my life right now? Where might there be necessary change, suffering, death and decay, and how might new life emerge from those experiences?
10 Prayers & Meditations
1. Psalm 51
2. Psalm 139
3. Isaiah 58
5. Litany of Penitence (adapted by Richard Beck from the Book of Common Prayer)
6. “Listening Prayer,” from Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith:
Plant both feet on the floor.
Listen to God’s words to you about the real people whose cries God hears every day…people who cry out in every corner of the world; whether that corner is peppered with steeples, temples, mosques, or synagogues.
Listen to God’s heart for them.
Listen…Can you hear their cries?
7. “Blessing the Dust” by Jan Richardson
8. Prayer for Christians Facing Persecution, Church of England:
“O Lord God, your Son Jesus Christ suffered and died for us. In his resurrection he restores life and peace in all creation. Comfort, we pray, all victims of intolerance and those oppressed by their fellow humans. Remember in your kingdom those who have died. Lead the oppressors towards compassion and give hope to the suffering. Through the same Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
9. Confession of Sin (Presbyterian Mission Agency, Resources on Cultural Diversity and Racism):
in Jesus Christ you teach us to love our neighbors,
but we build dividing walls of hostility.
You show us how to love one another as sisters and brothers
but we hide ourselves from our own human family.
You ask us to seek out the stranger and welcome the guest,
but we lock ourselves up inside our own fear.
You want us to share your abundant gifts with the poor,
but we cling tightly to our possessions and our privilege.
You call us to proclaim good news to all people,
but we waste our words and hide our light.
Have mercy on us, loving God.
Forgive our sin, open our hearts, and change our lives.
By your Spirit, make us holy and whole—
one people, united in faith, hope, and love;
through Jesus Christ, our reconciler and redeemer.
15 Fasts & Disciplines
1. Practice the prayer of examen each day. This daily spiritual discipline (credited to St. Ignatius of Loyola) invites the participant to concentrate on the experiences of the past 24-hours through four prayerful stages: presence, gratitude, review, and response. Mars Hill Bible Church has a helpful guide here, and A New Liturgy just released a series of songs, prayers, and Scripture around the examen. (For more ideas and variations on the traditional examen, check out Ignatian Spirituality.)
2. Traditionally, Christians abstained from eating meat during Lent, so consider joining millions of Christians around the world in this fast. It’s a great way to connect with the historical, worldwide church and to become more mindful about the food you eat.
3. For families with children: Make a thorn wreath with your family or Institute a Way of Light wreath or an Easter Tree (via Ann Voskamp) You may also want to check out this fantastic list of Lent ideas for families, which includes eating fish sticks on Fridays, making paper chains, donating, and keeping a gratitude jar.
4. Do a personal or group study around Forgive Us: Confessions of a Compromised Faith by Soong-Chan Rah, Mae Elise Cannon, Lisa Sharon Harper, and Troy Jackson This powerful book provides historical information, reflection, and prayers around Christian complicity in sins against God’s creation, indigenous people, African Americans and people of color, women, the LGBTQ community, immigrants, Jews and Muslims. (Read my review, and an interview with the authors here.) Not only is this book informative, it’s also practical, providing well-written prayers of confession and lament (appropriate for both personal and corporate use) as well as ideas for repairing relationships and pursuing justice.
5. Pray the offices for 40 days. The Daily Office, or the Divine Hours, consists of four times of prayer each day: morning prayers (Matins/Laudes), midday prayers (Sext), evening prayers (Vespers), nighttime prayers (Compline). If it’s your first time praying the hours, I recommend using Phyllis Tickle’s The Divine Hours, Pocket Edition.
6. Recent news has brought the plight of persecuted Christians from around the world back into our collective consciousness. Consider devoting a few minutes each day, for 40 days, to learning about and praying for our brothers and sisters suffering for their faith. For ideas, check out Open Doors and Voice of the Martyrs. You may want to begin by praying specifically for the families of the 21 Coptic Christians recently executed in Egypt. Here are the names of those killed:
Milad Makin Zaki
Abanub Ayyad Atiyah
Majid Sulayman Shihatah
Yusuf Shukri Yunan
Carlos Bushra Fawzi
Bishoy Astafnus Kamil
(brother) Suma'ili Astafnus Kamil
Malak Ibrahim Sanyut
Tawadaros Yusuf Tawadaros
Jirjis Milad Sanyut
Mina Sayyid Aziz
Hani Abd-al-Masih Salib
Bishoy Adil Khalaf
Samuel Alham Wilson
Izzat Bushra Nasif
Luqa Najati Wanis
Isam Bidar Samir
Malak Farraj Abram
Samih Salah Faruq
Jabir Munir Adli
7. Make or purchase Anglican Prayer Beads and devote yourself to praying through them three times a day.
8. Go on a mini-pilgrimage. Set aside a day (or even a weekend) during Lent to visit a nearby monastery. A couple years ago, I spent a weekend at St. Bernard Abbey in Cullman, Alabama, and it was a really enriching time for me. I especially enjoyed walking through their outdoor stations of the cross. Many monasteries welcome overnight guests and allow them to participate in prayers and meals. Just be sure to call ahead to make a reservation and learn about the community’s policies. Or, visit a church that has a labyrinth and walk the labyrinth, or a church that has a unique work of art you have always wanted to see.
9. Get creative with what you “give up.” A few years ago, I gave up sleeping in for Lent and found that fast surprisingly challenging and meaningful. I committed to rising just before dawn each day to pray, which not only broke my night-owl habits but also turned my heart and mind to the significance of the pre-dawn dark in the death and resurrection cycle. As Barbara Brown Taylor says: “…New life starts in the dark. Whether it is a seed in the ground, a baby in the womb, or Jesus in the tomb, it starts in the dark.” I learned a lot in those quiet, dark moments.
Other things you might want to consider “giving up”: social media, cynicism (replace with wonder, compassion, and hope), perfectionism, legalism, TV, sugar, reading authors and bloggers who tend to look and think like you, comparison, etc. One fast that has crossed my mind this week is the idea of giving up the consumption of people for Lent. Our culture (through social media, reality TV, celebrity gossip, etc.) has so profoundly commodified people—actual human beings— it’s become a phenomenon we hardly even notice anymore. Only recently have I been contemplating the significance of this trend, catching myself in the act of commodifying and consuming other people and also experiencing the pain of being commodified and consumed myself. I’m not exactly sure what “giving it up” would look like, but I’d like to try.
10. Join me in reading Falling Upward: Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life by Richard Rohr.
3. Wondrous Encounters: Scriptures for Lent by Richard Rohr
7. “Lent: For Your Penance” by Enuma Okoro
8. A Place at the Table: 40 Days of Solidarity with the Poor by Chris Seay
9. Eastertide: Prayers for Lent Through Easter by Phyllis Tickle
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