One week until Lent

Gothic Altarpiece, Musee de Cluny, Paris
Gothic Altarpiece, Musee de Cluny, Paris

Lent starts in a week (unless you’re Eastern Orthodox, in which case it starts in five days).

The question of Lenten discipline inevitably arises, whether simply in one’s own mind, or in conversation with friends.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” everyone asks.

Chocolate? Alcohol? R-rated films? Smoking? Coffee? Sweets? Meat?

Sure. Any of these will do.

The point of Lent is not the giving-up-of-things.

The point of Lent is disciplina, the training/teaching of ourselves, the preparation of our spirits for the Great Feast of Easter — the Chief Feast of the Christian year. We want to draw nearer to God. So we fast or abstain or pray more or study a particular book of the Bible or another work of spiritual edification.

I read James W. Kennedy, Holy Island: A Lenten Pilgrimage to Lindisfarne one year. Another year, it was Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline. Once I read Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. My Lenten reading seems to have been as eclectic yet predictable as ever.

One year I prayed BCP Compline every night. That was 2004. I fell in love with the BCP that year. Maybe this year you’ll choose to journey with us through the daily office over at The Witness Cloud.

Even if you belong to a church that has canonical demands for Lenten discipline (that is, observant Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox), spiritual discipline — Lenten or otherwise — is not one-size-fits-all. I know one Cypriot Orthodox priest who gives up sweets for Lent because he does not eat a lot of meat, so the canonical discipline is not so demanding.

Thus St Mark the Monk/Ascetic/Hermit:

There are many differing methods of prayer. No method is harmful; if it were, it would be not prayer but the activity of Satan. ~ch. 22 in ‘On the Spiritual Law: Two Hundred Texts’, in The Philokalia, trans. Palmer, Sherrard, Ware, p. 111

Dallas Willard, The Spirit of the Disciplines, provides us with similar insights, in particular from the introduction to Jeremy Taylor’s Holy Living in Appendix I.

What matters is not which discipline you take on in Lent. What matters is ordering our hearts and minds to the greater love of God and neighbour. So think carefully and prayerfully this next seven-day as to what you may do.

(And so I seem to have come around to Cassian and ‘purity of heart’ all over again.)

Is there freedom from the dog’s breakfast of Internet content?

A friend shared this on Facebook recently:

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It makes me think of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (1914-2003) and his book, Our Thoughts Determine Our Lives. One of the insights of this Serbian Orthodox Father is that reading the newspaper clutters our minds and distracts us from our real task in life, which is quieting the mind and heart to find God.

Elder Thaddeus died a couple of years before Facebook, and his teachings seem blissfully ignorant of the Internet. I have a feeling, however, that his wisdom would have been to avoid this dog’s breakfast of most corners of the Internet. I feel that way sometimes, too.

I’m not sure we should all totally cut ourselves off from the news or Facebook or Tumblr or Reddit, though — but perhaps we should be wise about how much and which news, and then use the news as a way to inform our prayer lives and our social action. Otherwise, in the midst of the celebrity gossip, the venomous editorials, the vapid blogs, the zoo that is the American presidential campaign, the shallowness of much modern politics, et cetera ad infinitum, our thoughts will become so cluttered and our hearts filled with so much confusion and turmoil that we will lose ourselves.

Instead, let us limit our intake of digital media and avoid such things as definitively contribute to the dog’s breakfast of the Internet content.

Then we can sit in silence and seek to find the unutterable mystery of God, who is so much more satisfying than any Internet debate and so much more substantial than any Internet news, for He sits at the heart of the Cosmos, He is Primordial Being, the truest absolute hypostasis/persona, He is absolute, boundless love, and He seeks us to know Him and love Him and then love each other.

(Okay, so that last bit is influenced by Elder Sophrony, His Life Is Mine, not Elder Thaddeus.)

Image source: Michael Leunig Appreciation Page on Facebook