In the Ash Wednesday liturgy, we hear this invitation:
“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”
– Book of Common Prayer, p. 265
So, how might you take up the invitation of the Church to do these things? Here are some suggestions.
The practice of an Examen is often a fruitful way to spend time in prayer. The basic process is to stop at the end of the day and go through five steps:
1. Become aware of God’s presence.
2. Review the day with gratitude.
3. Pay attention to your emotions.
4. Choose one feature of the day and pray from it.
5. Look toward tomorrow.
There are a number of on-line resources and phone apps to guide you through Examens that focus on different themes. For general advice about how to pray the Examen, visit IgnatianSpirituality.com.
The Rite of Reconciliation is available by appointment with Rev. Catharine. Preparation is important before undertaking a confession. Rev. Catharine has materials she can provide you to guide your preparation, and she can also help you find another priest to hear your confession.
If you would to enrich or refresh your prayer practice, the Examen noted above is one good place to start. The ‘Life Transformed Way of Life in Lent’ calendar is another good approach, as are devotionals like Living Well in Lent. Copies of both the calendar and the Living Well booklet are available at church, and both are also available online. Any regular practice that offers you quiet will increase your ability to hear God speaking to you. If you would like to explore praying with icons, Rowan Williams’ book, The Dwelling of the Light, is a good introduction. Praying with beads is another prayer practice with deep roots in the tradition.
Fasting and Self-denial
To understand the spirit of self-denial it is important to see it in constructive, not negative, terms. Fasting and self-denial are about freedom—freeing ourselves from the control of outside forces and temptations. Fasting and self-denial are about saying “no” in those places where we have surrendered control to bad habits or addictions that threaten us.
Through prayer and honest self-examination we discover those places where we have surrendered our freedom. We ask God’s forgiveness and strength, and we repent, attempting to regain our freedom.
Fasting and self-denial train us to cooperate with God’s will, with the life for which our loving creator meant us. By training ourselves to resist the temptation to eat sweets in Lent, for example, we may build up the spiritual strength (and desire) to seek God’s help in breaking free of other entanglements and addictions. Awareness of those areas where we are un-free often leads to increased awareness of the oppression of others and a desire to work for justice.
Reading and meditating on God’s holy Word
There are many ways to engage more deeply in God’s holy Word—the “best” one is probably whichever one you actually do! For reading God’s Word in scripture, there are two Episcopal Church lectionaries (reading programs) you might consult: the Daily Office lectionary printed in the Book of Common Prayer (pages 953-957, odd-numbered pages only); or the Daily Eucharistic lectionary. Many devotionals, including the ‘Life Transformed Way of Life in Lent’ calendar and the Living Well in Lent booklet offer daily scripture reading, as do the ForwardDay by Day booklets available at the back of the church.
For reading God’s Word in the lives of other Christians, try following LentMadness. Yes, it’s fun, but it also opens up a way to see how God’s Word has been lived out in a wide variety of situations.
Some Foods of Lent
Even thought it is a season of fasting and self- denial, Lent has its own special foods. In fact, pretzels were originally a Lenten food. The pretzel has been used during Lent for over 1500 years. It is thought that originally pretzels were made to resemble arms crossed in prayer. This bread can have spiritual meaning for us during Lent. Since basically only flour and water are used, pretzels can remind us of Lenten fasting. They are also reminders of the call to deeper prayer which we hear at Lent.
Here is a recipe which the whole family can make together:
This recipe makes soft pretzels that should be eaten right away. If you prefer hard pretzels, reduce the water to 1 ¼ cups, and add ¼ cup of melted butter.
Dissolve 1 package of dry yeast in 1 ½ cups of water. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and 1 tablespoon of sugar. Blend in 4 cups of flour.
Knead the dough until smooth. Cut into small pieces. Roll into ropes and twist into desired shape. Place on lightly greased cookie sheet. Brush pretzel with beaten egg and sprinkle with coarse salt. Bake immediately at 425 degrees for 12-15 minutes.
Heavenly Father, we ask you to bless these little breads. Each time we eat them, may we be reminded of the special season of prayer and fasting that we are keeping. May they remind us of our need to come closer to you in prayer. May they remind us of those in need. Keep your loving arms around us, O Father, to protect us always, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Another traditional Lenten treat, one associated mostly with Good Friday, is Hot Cross Buns. They were traditionally eaten to break the fast on Good Friday. The spices in them were reminders of the spices that the women took to embalm Jesus’ body, and the cross on the top was a reminder of the crucifixion.
Here is a traditional recipe (one that involves starting the dough the night before you want to bake the buns):
1 cup milk
¼ cup sugar
2 Tbs butter
½ tsp salt
1 packet dried yeast, softened in ¼ cup warm water
¾ tsp cinnamon
3 cups flour (may substitute up to half soft whole wheat)
¼ cup raisins or currants
Powdered sugar & milk or cream for making icing
Scald milk, then add butter, sugar, and salt. Stir until lukewarm, then add yeast, cinnamon, flour, and egg well-beaten. When thoroughly mixed, add raisins or currants, cover, and let rise overnight.
In the morning, divide dough into a dozen rough balls and place in greased 9×13 baking pan. Let rise (approx. 1 ½ hours), then bake at 400 for 20 minutes.
While they bake, mix a fairly stiff paste of powdered sugar and milk or cream to pipe onto the buns making crosses on each one. It is best to ice them before they cool.