Observing Lent

Interlude — The Coast of Galicia, performed by Geraldine O’Doherty, on the Invisible Stars: Choral Works of Ireland & Scotland

Are you observing Lent this year?  Are you giving up something? One year in college I gave up meat — every day, not just Fridays. Giving up chocolate is also popular.  The idea of giving up something, so that when you want it, it reminds you of your commitment to God,  has been around for ages.  More recently, I was introduced to the idea that Lent should be a time to get closer to God.  If chocolate gets between you and God, giving it up might make sense, but taking up a daily Bible reading or prayer practice might be more effective at bringing you closer to God.

This year I decided to combine the two ideas: giving up something, and getting closer to God. I already had a daily practice on Facebook, of posting a prayer, or an excerpt from a prayer, from the Episcopal Book of Common Prayer.  I would read my newsfeed and choose a prayer that seemed an appropriate response to the biggest story, or the general tone, and post it without comment or introduction.  (That’s the thing about public prayers — you don’t know what else is going on in people’s lives, that this prayer might address for them — nothing to do with the reason you originally chose it.).  For example, after a famous person died, I posted one of the prayers from a burial service.  Another friend’s post might invoke a prayer for doctors and nurses, pulled from the Campaign Prayer Book used during World War One.

Anyway, for Lent this year, I’ve given up my freedom of prayer choice, and I’ve been posting excerpts from the Ash Wednesday Liturgy for Penitence, and then the Great Litany, verse by verse.  These prayers’ somber mood, and exhaustive coverage of all manner of sin and affliction, fit right in with the post-inauguration doom and gloom news many of my friends have been passing along.

Funny thing about these two prayers, though.  They have these wonderful responses.  You have this list of negative stuff, and then a repeated response, for example,

From all blindness of heart; from pride, vainglory, and hypocrisy;
from envy, hatred, and malice; and from all want of charity,
Good Lord, deliver us.

Or this verse

That it may please thee to bless and keep all thy people,
We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


Good Lord, deliver us.

We beseech thee to hear us, good Lord.


The responses are almost like mantras, repeated over and over, verse after verse. Each of these long prayers’ verses list awful things that humans are, or do, or have happen to us, but after each set, we are brought back to God.  We bring our fears and woes to God, and ask for divine help — Have mercy on us, Lord.

Here in meditation, we don’t recite explicit lists of all that is wrong with the world or with ourselves.  Instead, we practice releasing those fears and worries from our tight-fisted minds.  However, in repeating our mantra, and in the very act of meditation, we echo the invitation to God of these penitential prayers.  God, be close to us, let us stay connected to you, and guided by you.

We have a couple weeks left in Lent [ends on Maundy Thursday, April 13] and allow me to suggest that if your original Lenten commitment hasn’t helped you feel closer to God, try a different one. I highly recommend daily prayer — be it contemplative prayer like we do here, or traditional prayers from the Book of Common Prayer, or both — but do something that brings more God into your day.

Allow me to close with the final entreaty from the Great Litany, particularly appropriate for our meditation time together:

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the
fellowship of the Holy Ghost, be with us all evermore.


[Book of Common Prayer, conclusion of the Great Litany]

Delivered at Resurrection Catholic Church, Aptos, California, on March 25, 2015.