These five creative (and nontraditional) Lenten practices can strengthen your spirit all year long
We didn't really do Lent growing up.
I'm not sure why we didn't observe it, but I think we always considered our family and church just plain old Christian in the Bible Belt of America; not low church, per se, but certainly not high.
In fact, I didn't think twice about it until we moved to rural Meath in 2008, when it still seemed like everybody – including my 6-year-old little boy upon arriving home from school – declared a traditional belief in “to dust you shall return” by bearing the ashen cross on their foreheads at the starting gate of Lent. I think a part of me fancied this notion, this obvious display of faith (or rather, if I were to be honest, of religion). There were conversations had, ideas floated, and it came to pass that the husband and I decided to do Lent.
Now, I cannot remember what I "gave up" for Lent that first year, but I'm pretty sure it was chocolate, and I'm more than sure it was short-lived. My noteworthy failure at abstaining for a few short weeks left me disturbed by my apparent weakness, lack of self-control, and inability to maintain a true sacrificial faith.
In the intervening decade, I began contemplating Lent, what I really truly wanted to give up for this period of meditation and even what I might “put on.” In recent years, I’ll tell you that I’ve looked forward to it, not just because of my anxiousness to rid myself of self-serving vices, but also to try out new spiritual disciplines, ones I’ve not yet tried on for size.
By the time you read this, we’ll already be three weeks into the Lenten season. But it’s not too late to take part, to give up that which distracts us from – or put on that which brings us closer to – understanding Christ in His sufferings.
With that in mind, and with the 20 days we have left before Easter, here are five creative and manageable Lenten practices.
1. The Lent Project. This interactive, multi-media study from Biola University’s Center for Christianity, Culture and the Arts (California, USA) is my favourite way to reflect, pray and worship during Lent. Featuring classical and modern artwork, music, poetry, and personal essays, Biola drops the daily study right in your inbox. Bonus: if you sign up for the Lent Project, you’ll also receive the Advent Project in due time.
2. Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals. An updated and theologically hefty guide to the church calendar, co-editor Shane Claiborne (and company) recently released an app with daily readings. I recommend this book all year long, but if you’re looking to jump start your spiritual rhythm, this is a fantastic tool.
3. 40 Days with Jesus. The 100 Days with Jesus Instagram account features a daily image and prompt all year long, but during Lent focuses on the pathway to the cross. This series pays special attention to the names of Jesus and uses word study, prayers and Scripture to dig deeper into who Jesus was – and why.
4. Playlists. Much like Christmas, a soundtrack to the Lenten season can foster an atmosphere of peace and contemplation. Check out the myriad of Spotify playlists, or here’s a link to mine. My favourite musicians for guided prayer are Fernando Ortega, Audrey Assad (who’s playing in Dublin this May!), Waterdeep and Sufjan Stevens.
5. The Lenten Labyrinth. A group of Dublin creatives have curated an experiential art installation called Journey of Solace. Open now in Smithfield, Dublin 7, the Labyrinth offers a safe space to lay down burdens and find rest. This free exhibition runs Monday to Saturday, 1-7pm, through Good Friday. (Full disclosure: my husband is the director of the Labyrinth, so this is both a shameless plug and a really beautiful project.)
VOX would love to hear how you're observing Lent this year, including what you give up, what you put on, and all points in between. Leave a comment below or join the conversation on Facebook or Twitter.