Featured Article – March/April 2011

Living A Somewhat Continuous Lent

The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent.
RB 49.1

At this month’s meeting of my Benedictine Spirituality group, one of the members confessed that she was going to miss her Lenten discipline. “I need to continue this,” she declared. But the question was, “How?” The supporting framework of the Lenten season was soon to drop from the spiritual radar.

I agreed with both the need and the desire to continue my own Lenten intentions. I’m doing pretty well at one – no nibbling. When I want to nibble I explore the reason why, which is usually tiredness, frustration or just plain habit, and then give the feelings to God as an offering and flee the kitchen! The other discipline definitely needs more time – letting go of negative and obsessive thoughts about a situation in my life. These thoughts put a neat wedge into my relationships with God and my family. Not good. I want and NEED to continue my chosen Lenten practices!
I suggested that perhaps we could continue our practices during the season of Easter. (Episcopalians, along with some other denominations, celebrate the Fifty Days of Easter as a liturgical season.) We started talking about how we might continue our practices. A very wise member of our group made some wonderful suggestions to help us “be what we say we want to be.”1 (Thank you, Laurie!) I want to share these with you along with my thoughts about them and some “supporting evidence” from the Rule. Here are the steps.

  1. Examine the reason you wish to continue or do the practice 
    In this step we determine whether or not the practice really should be continued. If so, we increase our resolve by understanding our motivation and the benefits of the practice.This step follows the monastic tradition of self-awareness. As persons desiring to follow the Rule, if we are to seek and find that personal “goodness of life” cited by Benedict as critical to monastic living and leadership and certainly for all of us Christians, we must have awareness about ourselves – what we think, what we do and what motivates us.
  2. Tell someone your intention.
    Declaring our intention to another person will help us claim and be accountable for our decision. We can find support and encouragement from another person, too. Benedict also urges such declarations.Everyone should, however, make known to the abbot or prioress what they intend to do, since it ought to be done with their prayer and approval. RB 49.8
    1 Joan Chittister, The Rule of St. Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century (Crossroads, 2010), 220.
    The person with whom we share our intention can pray for us. They also might share when they sense we’re doing something too difficult and perhaps suggest an alternative.
  3. Ritualize your intention.
    Something that I have learned over the years is that attaching a ritual or a physical action to a decision helps me to embrace that decision. We create a sacred event that can mark the beginning of our intention so that when we waiver, we can recall that ritual.I remember vividly a time that I used such a ritual. For a number of months before my ordination I had been consumed with doubts about becoming a priest. Would I be able to do it? Was it the right decision? While on a trip to the Holy Land I decided that I absolutely MUST move away from these crippling doubts. Early one morning I walked out to the shore of the Sea of Galilee where we were staying. I picked up a rock, named it as all my doubts about becoming a priest, and with a prayer, threw it as hard as I could into the Sea of Galilee to Jesus. Later, when the doubts would creep back in again (they always do!), recalling this ritual helped my reclaim my resolve.The monastic ritual of the Opus Dei, the daily meeting for corporate prayer and praise found in the Benedictine tradition – undergirds the whole of monastic life. The “Work of God’ and provides a daily ritual that sustains faithful monastic living and the ongoing sense of God’s presence.We believe that the divine presence is everywhere…But beyond the least doubt we should believe this to be especially true when we celebrate the divine office. RB 19.1a, 1
  4. Journal your experiences.
    Journaling about how we are keeping our intention – or not – can help us keep that intention. Journaling increases our self-awareness. We can write about where we are following our decision and cheer. If we have “fallen off the wagon” we can explore the reasons why. Such journaling calls to my mind Benedict’s instructions in Chapter 7 – Humility.

The fifth step of humility is that a monastic does not conceal from their abbot or prioress any sinful thoughts entering their heart, or any wrongs committed in secret, but rather confesses them humbly. RB 7.44

As we journal we can take heart in these words from Benedict:
Place your hope in God alone. RB 4.41
And finally, never lose hope in God’s mercy.” RB 4.74

Benedict says that in offering a discipline to God during Lent we can look forward “to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.” (RB 49.7b). We don’t need to limit ourselves to Lent. We can set a period of time in which to practice our intention and mark the end with thanksgiving and celebration.
I hope that this article has inspired you to continue a practice that you used during Lent or to start a new “un-Lent” discipline.” Benedict’s desire that “Life should be a continuous Lent” may be too much for us to take on. But once in a while, in a smaller way, we can give it a try and look forward with joy and spiritual longing to a deeper relationship with God.

April 2011
© 2011 The Rev. Dr. Jane A. Tomaine

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