Goodbye for now, friends. I’m soon going on another lenten journey and plan to return in early April.
It’s common for people of diverse Christian traditions to “give up” something for lent. You could say I’m giving up social media, but this is more than a time of abstinence. For a Benedictine, lent is also a time of increase, of doing more, of embracing the spiritual life with more fervor and vigor. It can be an exciting, enriching time and I’m looking forward to this journey with the joy of anticipation.
Why I’ve decided to withdraw from social media for a lenten journey
Lent, for a Benedictine, isn’t a different kind of season, but rather a deeper one. If a year’s journey is like a labyrinth, lent would be the part of the walk taking us closest to the center. Lent provides time to purify our spiritual practices, to increase, to grow. It is a step up from what we normally do, not an altogether radical change in our regime.
One Benedictine practice is Moderation in All Things, and that applies to lenten fasting, prayer, and almsgiving — whatever we choose to do to honor lent should not be unduly harsh. In Joan Chittister’s words, “Benedict wants us to do something beyond the normal requirements of our lives ‘of our own will.’ Not forced, not prescribed for us by someone else. Not required by the system…Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be.”
Benedictinism is not a way of life one can distill down to catchy phrases, slogans, or recipes for success. There are more than 20 practices. The Oblate director at the monastery where I am a Benedictine Oblate uses the imagery of threads. Each Benedictine weaves of these threads (practices, values) a life as unique as a fingerprint, or a poem. There is no single, universal Benedictine prescription for doing lent.
I have some idea of what I’ll be doing less of—participating in social media conversations, eating and drinking to satisfy my own cravings, and taking on just too much busy-ness. I know what I want to do more of—Lectio Divina, private prayer, communal prayer at the monastery, listening in silence, and responding in poetry. I don’t know what will happen, and while there is the joy of anticipation, there is also the fear of being consciously present to the realities that those practices inevitably will bring up — pain, loss, grief, loneliness, and darkness. Those are the uncomfortable things I prefer to mask and ignore, which is not a healthy or helpful response to my experiences and feelings.
I’ve felt drawn (called, you could say) to embrace this lenten season of purification and enlightenment, and yes, of paschal dying, which Father Ronald Rolheiser in The Holy Longing distinguishes from terminal death, “which ends life and ends possibilities.” Paschal death, he writes is a dying, “while ending one kind of life, opens the person … to receive a deeper and richer form of life.”
And so, I hope this lenten journey will open me to receive the gift of life in all its fullness.
I will be “offline” from February 14 through April 7, 2018 (Ash Wednesday through Last Day of Passover).