Written by The Rev. Canon Ross Kimball
I confess that I enjoyed all of my school years. Yes, even law school! I had many inspiring teachers and professors, made many good friends, and enjoyed many extra-curricular activities. I did NOT, however, enjoy the regular tests and quizzes (especially the pop, or surprise, quizzes). They were usually a source of significant fear and trembling. I suspect it was the same for most of us. Imagine my surprise, then, when I learned that one of my daughter’s high school teachers referred to tests and quizzes as “opportunities.” Seriously? The teacher apparently reasoned that they were an opportunity for the students to demonstrate what they had learned.
For most of us, our first reaction when we realize that Lent is upon us is to focus immediately and somewhat unhappily on what we are going to give up. The reality, though, is that Lent actually offers us an opportunity – a very good opportunity – to gain something of surpassing worth.
The observance of Lent does include giving up something(s), but it actually involves much more. We are also called to take on active practices. At the beginning of our Ash Wednesday service, Fr. Brian invited us “to the observance of a holy Lent: by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and alms-giving; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” That sounds like work – an investment of time and energy that we don’t have. But the investment is worth it because it’s a good opportunity to come closer to God and experience the gift of his presence.
Serious self-examination before God allows us to see clearly the sin in our lives. When we bring that sin openly before God, express our sincere sorrow, and repent, we experience the joy of receiving his forgiveness. We can also repent of engaging in activities and practices that lead to death and turn instead to those that are life-giving, be it exercising, reading, listening to good music, spending more time with friends, or something else. In prayer, our hearts and minds commune directly with God. We experience God’s pleasure when we give alms, as the love of Christ flows through us. God the Holy Spirit speaks to us as we read and meditate on his holy Word.
Our souls thirst for communion with God. Like St. Paul, we have some sense of the “surpassing worth of knowing Christ.” Giving up something is an integral part of our Lenten practice, but it’s not an end in itself. By itself, it doesn’t gain us greater communion with God or better knowledge of Christ. We gain those through the other Lenten practices we take. We have to give up something to make room/time to pursue those practices that will feed our souls.
A number of years ago, an acquaintance of mine told me Lent was her favorite season. I think she was on to something. The invitation to a holy Lent is an invitation to an opportunity of surpassing worth. Following the invitation to a holy Lent, our Ash Wednesday service continued with this prayer: “And to make a right beginning, let us now pray for grace, that we may faithfully keep this Lent.” Let us make this our continuous prayer throughout this wonderful season.