Lent is the forty-day period before Easter that commemorates Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness in preparation for the launch of his ministry. In the early church, Lent was a time to prepare for baptism. Today, it is usually regarded as a season of soul searching, privation, and repentance. It begins with Ash Wednesday and ends at sundown on Maundy Thursday. Good mathematicians will realize that there are more than forty days between these two holidays. The reason for these extra days is a simple one: early Christians never fasted on Sundays; the days have been excluded from Lent because they are always celebrations of Christ’s resurrection.
It has become popular for Christians of all traditions to deprive themselves of something (usually chocolate, coffee, or T.V.) during Lent. Lent should not be about deprivation, however. Our giving up something is meant to be a shedding of the old, self-centered life to embrace the new life of community, mutuality, and justice. Lent prepares us to live the kingdom values of compassion, generosity, and caring.
One way to change our focus is by stirring our creativity and helping our congregants think outside the box. Here are some suggestions that might help.
Take an Artist Date
The place to start is with more fun and creativity. In Restoring the Wellsprings: A Lenten Retreat into Creative Practice, the authors suggest taking an “artist date” each week in Lent. They suggest giving up self-denial for Lent and getting out at least once a week to have fun for an hour or two. This is a great suggestion for a small congregation and a wonderful way to get out and explore the neighborhood; go for a ferry ride, visit an art gallery, or feed the pigeons in the park.
Experiences such as these free our minds to think outside the box and restore the flexibility we so desperately need to reshape our spiritual lives and draw closer to God.
Get Out and Take Notice
God plants us in neighborhoods for a purpose, and Lent is a great time to explore the places we’ve been planted. Get your members out and take notice of your neighborhood, God’s creation, and the people who populate it. Take the practices of Lectio Divina and Visio Divina out into the world around you. Explore the neighborhood graffiti, murals, and garden art. Observe the people you pass. Take notice of the new plants emerging in gardens. Plan Lenten soup-and-supper evenings to discuss what you have learned about God, your neighbors, and the community in which God has planted you.
Give Free Reign to Creativity
I am a big advocate of free-form creative practices, such as doodling, walking a finger labyrinth, and painting on rocks. Crafts such as knitting and woodworking can spur creativity and improve our problem-solving abilities. Consider setting aside time for one of these practices each week during Lent. Yep, a knitting circle for Lent! But maybe with a purpose–prayer shawls, toys for differently-abled kids, or yarn bombing, for example. Such practices are guaranteed to inspire new, creative, spiritual practices.
Get Out and Have Some Fun
We all need to play. Making a mess, getting dirty, coloring, and playing sports are all rejuvenating practices that free us from inflexible thought patterns and routines. In our hectic, modern lives, many of us focus so heavily on work and family commitments that we never have time for pure fun. Just because we’re adults doesn’t mean we have to take ourselves so seriously and make life all about work.
Lent can be a time when we let go of control over what we do and hand our plans for celebrations over to our kids. When I wrote “Five Ways to Foster Creativity In Kids During Lent,” I mentioned how meaningful it was to give five-year-old Catie control of creativity for Easter. We underestimate the creativity of kids and their ability to shape their practices, as well as ours.
Focus on Life, Not Death
As you walk through Lent, will you find yourself hungering for life or death? Are your practices focused on the cross or the Kingdom? How would our Lenten practices change if our goal was resurrection living rather then Cross walking? Lent is a time to daydream, to imagine new possibilities for the in-breaking of God’s new world.
This is my focus for Lent this year. I have established a word for each week, written them on rocks, and planted a Lenten garden with these rocks to help me focus. Perhaps you would like to invite your congregation to join me on this journey. Download this free Lenten guide, encourage people to start a Lenten journal, and record your journey toward God’s resurrection world. I think that you will be amazed at how this form of Lenten observance can transform your congregation.