“You have turned my mourning into dancing;
you have taken off my sackcloth and clothed me with joy,
so that my soul may praise you and not be silent.”
Psalm 30:11, 12a
Ash Wednesday is just around the corner. Can you envision where your Lenten practice will be? Perhaps in vanishing chocolates or disappearing glasses of wine? 40 plus days of grim determination to follow through on your discipline only to know you may fall off the wagon on Day Three?
Whoa!!! Let’s turn to our wise guide and friend Benedict to re-frame Lent the Benedictine way and mount a course correction!
I invite you to whip out your copy of the Rule and read Chapter 49 – The Observance of Lent. Then, please return to the article and we’ll explore the Benedictine way of Lent together. For an on-line version, click here.
What stood out for you as you read that chapter? What seems important to Benedict? Take a moment of two to think about what you noticed in Benedict’s instructions for Lent. Then read on as I share my thoughts with you…
It’s impossible to ignore his opening statement, isn’t it? “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.” (Trans from RB 1980 – The Rule of St. Benedict in English) Why does he say that the life of a monk, and here I’ll add the life of any Christian, should be a continuous Lent? Is the man nutty, if you pardon the expression?
Benedict is zealous to help his monks reach the goal of eternal life and so is alert to what impedes that goal. He sums it up in one word – negligences. In other parts of the Rule he details these – neglecting the care of the weak and the sick (36.6,10), sloppiness in the Daily Office (45.2), wasting time or chit-chatting with others instead of doing holy reading (48.18), and being late for the Office or for meals (43.5,14). Note that these impact not only the individual but also the community. What we neglect erodes the life and health of the communities of which we are a part. I also noticed that in verse 5 he uses the term “service” for the Lenten discipline, reinforcing that Lent is a corporate endeavor. What I do in Lent, I don’t do for myself alone, but as an offering to God and in service of others. This is a key point for us to remember in reframing Lent – it doesn’t impact us alone but our communities as well, i.e., family, workplace, school, friendships, church and other organizations that we are a part of. Note also that Benedict expands abstinence beyond food and drink to include “needless talking and idle jesting.” We’re given the direction to become aware of what we say and how we act and to let go of behaviors that can negatively impact others and ourselves. We choose an area in which we are negligent in some way and form our Lenten discipline to wash away that negligence – “What am I doing, or failing to do, that is a cause of scandal, or is an unhelpful example, or that affects my soul in such a way that I am not as much a God-bearer as I could be?” This is a good question to ponder!
What also strikes me is the frame of mind or attitude Benedict encourages us to have during this holy season. And that is JOY! Can you believe that?? This is where I most need to reframe my own view of Lent! Benedict says that we are to freely choose “something in the way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of [our] own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit.” We are to be joyful in Lent! We’re to “look forward to a holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.” (Vs. 7)
Terrence Kardong reminds us that “All of monastic life depends on a willing and spontaneous spirit of joyful love.” Joyful love is to be the root of our Lenten practice. Benedict appeals to our heart for the motivation. Our love of God and our love of our communities are the reasons we wish to wash away any negligence. We are not left alone in this effort for the joy that Benedict calls for during Lent “does not depend on our moods, but upon a much more solid foundation, namely, the Holy Spirit.” The Holy Spirit guides us in our choice of a practice and supports us as we live into it. We experience joy as both the gift and the presence of the Holy Spirit within ourselves and within our communities.
Are you ready for a reframed Lent? May God bless you with transformation, growth and joy during the holy season of Lent.
© 2012 The Rev. Dr. Jane A. Tomaine
 Mark A. Scott, OCSO, At Home With Saint Benedict (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 2010), 289.
 Terrence G. Kardong, OSB, Benedict’s Rule: A Translation and Commentary (Collegeville, Minnesota: The Liturgical Press, 1996), 205.
 Ibid., 409.