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Lenten Disciplines

“And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.” (Mark 1:12-13, NRSVue)

Immediately after John the Baptist baptized Jesus, the Holy Spirit compelled Jesus to spend time alone in the wilderness. There, he withstood the temptations of Satan and demonstrated the importance of nurturing our spirits through solitude as we face the challenges of living for God.

This year, Valentine’s Day is also Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Christian season of Lent. Lent is a time of self-examination, much like the time Jesus spent in the wilderness. In the Early Church (traditionally defined as the first four centuries of the Christian church), converts to Christianity would spend up to two years preparing for membership. During Lent, the 40 days before Easter, excluding Sundays, confirmands were tested on their readiness to join the church. The culmination of their studies and the required tests (if they passed) was their baptism at a vigil on Easter Eve, followed by the churchwide celebration of the resurrection on Easter morning.

Even though we no longer require two years of preparation for joining the church, we continue to observe the forty days before Easter as a time to evaluate our role in our relationship with God, seeking ways to grow deeper in that relationship. We begin Lent with a Service of the Ashes, during which we “impose” the ashes in the sign of a cross on our foreheads to signify our repentance. This discipline also emphasizes our desire to honor God more fully through intentional discipleship. Interestingly, the ashes we use are the burnt and pulverized palm branches from previous Palm Sundays. We use the branches we lifted and waved last year to proclaim Jesus as Lord and King as a reminder of the challenges of living faithfully for God.

This year, we invite you to participate in 40 days of contemplative prayer as a Lenten discipline. Even if you’re not interested in using the recommended book (In the Presence of Jesus: A 40-Day Guide to the Intimacy with God You’ve Always Wanted by Paul Bane and Matt Litton), we encourage you to set aside 10-15 minutes every day to sit in silence and listen for God’s voice. There will be distractions, and your mind will wander, but keep drawing your attention back to the silence to listen for God speaking to you. You may not hear anything, but if you persevere, you will reach communion with God and experience his presence. Through this discipline, you will discern ways God communicates directly with your soul. If you do this faithfully every Day of Lent, I am confident you will experience God’s presence in refreshing and renewing ways.

I hope to see you this Sunday and don’t forget to invite your friends!

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