If you are of Christian heritage, you may or may not know that the Christian season of Lent started yesterday. The season of Lent used to have a vaguely negative association for me, resulting in a vaguely guilty feeling that I should be doing more to observe it, that I should be denying myself, suffering in some way, sacrificing in some way. This despite the fact that when I was a child, my church barely mentioned Lent, and required no sacrifice or suffering.
The Catholic kids I knew always gave up candy for Lent. Kids being kids, they were never able to explain to me what the point of it was, other than that they "had to," or "to understand the suffering of Christ." I never understood what giving up M&Ms for the duration of Lent could possibly have to do with understanding God.
I now understand that there are various ways of observing Lent, just as there are various spiritual practices that can help us draw closer to God. Fasting may be one path, but this post is not about fasting. It is about using the 40 days of Lent as a time of reflection, in whatever way works for you, with the goal of returning yourself to a closer alignment with God
Who among us couldn't benefit from living in closer alignment with God, or Spirit, or the Universe, or whatever words you use to describe the indescribable Source and Connection and Love?
Whether or not you consider yourself Christian, why not take some time this week (and perhaps some time in each of the next six weeks) to stop, look and listen for Spirit? Stop what you are doing, look (really look) at your life; and listen (really listen) to Source.
Stop. Set aside some time - an hour would be great, but 15 minutes will do - to just stop. Find a place of solitude, whether in your home, a pubic garden or library, or even your car - where you can be alone and undisturbed for this brief period of retreat. Bring something to take notes - either a pen and paper, or an electronic notepad of some sort.
Look. Look - really look - at what is going on in your life right now. Are certain areas being neglected? Are others getting too much of your attention, perhaps due to guilt or a feeling of obligation? Observe - with as little self-criticism as you can manage - and make notes. How often are you living from center? We all get off-balance from time to time, from hour to hour, even from moment to moment. But how much time, in the aggregate, are you living from center, with intention, as opposed to running from place to place without giving thought to other options and other choices you might make? Once again, observe, without judgment, and make notes.
Listen. Listen to your heart. Listen to that wise voice inside of you, whether you call that voice God, or Spirit, or your Higher Self, or something else. Listen to what that voice has to say to you.
Act. Heed that voice, and take action to follow it. You may not be able to change your bad habits or your kids' overcrowded schedules overnight, but you can take action every day to bring your life into greater alignment with your values and your purpose for being here.
Repeat. Make retreat a habit. Make listening to the voice of Wisdom a habit. Make living in alignment with Wisdom a habit. And, over time, you will find yourself living more and more in alignment with your values, and with that voice of Wisdom. And you will find yourself being able to recognize that voice of Wisdom more readily, and able to live from that place of center more easily - even while in the midst of the daily chaos.
If you are of Christian heritage and are still considering whether or not to "do something" for Lent, here are two resources:
1) Meditations for Lent: Into His Presence, a six-week guided meditation practice which is available by telephone free of charge. (Full disclosure: I lead this series on behalf of the Oxford United Methodist Church.) As Christians, we believe that God is ever-present and always with us. But the question is: how often are we present to God? In this series, we will practice ways of opening ourselves to the Presence of God, and of removing blocks that keep us from allowing ourselves to be present to God. The series starts on March 9th, but you can join at any time in the next six weeks. You can participate live or listen to the recordings, and you can attend as many or as few sessions as you would like to or are able to. For details, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.
2) For more active ways to observe the Lenten season, check out the "Top Ten List: Things You Can Try for the Lenten Season" in this Lent 101 blog post from Upper Room Ministries (scroll about half-way down the page for the list): http://www.upperroom.org/methodx/thelife/articles/lent101.asp