Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, March 2. The beginning of a Holy Season in which we prepare our hearts and minds as we move toward Easter and the remembrance of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Lent is a time for us to make a conscious and concerted effort to encounter God and be empowered by our faith to examine our lives and be mindful that our life is a gift from God and who we become is our gift to God. I think that today it is especially important for us to draw away from the turmoil and conflicts and all the noise of media and so many things competing for our attention to take time to be still, to be with God and to re-center our hearts and our priorities. Throughout Lent we will be looking at Holy Solitude and I will encourage you to practice Solitude if it is not already a discipline you enjoy. I know that for many that sounds awful because being alone has the connotation of being sad, aimless or lonely. However, Solitude is chosen and purposeful, it isn’t loneliness. Richard Foster writes “Loneliness is inner emptiness. Solitude is inner fulfillment.” Solitude provides the space to open one’s heart and mind and soul to notice, listen and reflect on God who is beyond and in all things, even within the self. Solitude creates space within us for God and what is most important to us. Jesus often drew away in solitude. All four Gospel writers note Jesus’ habit of taking time by himself; to pray, to recover from the pressures and often the pain of ministry and to grieve the death of his cousin, John the Baptist.
According to the world’s standards, Solitude means wasting time, doing ‘nothing.’ However, it can be the most important and empowering ‘doing nothing’ you could do in your day. Henri Nouwen writes that spending time with God and stepping outside what is measurable is discovering “that being is more important than having and that we are worth more than the result of our efforts.” Something we all need to be reminded of; we are so much more than the sum of our accomplishments. Moments of Solitude can be our Sabbath, when nothing is consumed, produced, or achieved, but instead we are free and privileged to simply rest in the presence of God. Remember that Jesus says “Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest.” (Matt. 11:28) He doesn’t say, “I will give you more work.” Today it is a radical thing to see and value your life in the way God does, that your being is more important than your doing. Of course, what we do is important, but the basis and quality of our being is the foundation of our doing including our serving, loving, dying and rising again. Who you are before God will be reflected in your actions, your words and your purpose in living.
Traditionally the Lenten journey is one of sacrifice and introspection. We will be looking at how to experience Holy Solitude. Two ancient practices especially used during Lent are fasting and/or almsgiving. Throughout Lent, you might choose one day a week for fasting. It is a discipline meant to create a kind of a solitude within that takes the focus off the physical and turns to making space within for God, grace and guidance. I suspect that the idea of fasting for a whole day leaves most of us feeling deprived, grumpy and hungry! Hardly something that will bring us closer to God. However, we don’t fast for fasting’s sake, it must be coupled with a time of prayer. I suggest, and I intend to fast from one meal, perhaps on Friday or a Saturday. The purpose of this is to follow Jesus into the wilderness for forty days—to grow in our relationship with God by stretching ourselves spiritually—not to punish ourselves or live in misery for seven weeks. Fasting is about God’s grace, not human endurance. It is between you and God, not deprivation and ‘being good.’ Fasting is about growing in dependence on God, in solidarity with the hungry and needy, and making space and solitude inside us for prayer and listening, which otherwise we would fill with food, noise, shopping or other comforts.
Almsgiving is another ancient practice that one can plan for. It can also create solitude within us by helping us let go of money and its security. Giving money to the poor, whether into the cup of a panhandler or writing checks to charity, it opens our grip and makes more space in us for our neighbor and God’s presence, which in the end is our only security. Throughout Lent you might pick Saturday to practice almsgiving. Keep some cash on hand and plan to give to whatever need God may put in your path, whether it is a panhandler, a kid doing a fundraiser or a tip jar. Do not judge the person or group asking, just give, trusting in God’s grace. Or, each Saturday, choose a charity you wish to support and write a check. Just choose an amount you want to give each weekend. The amount doesn’t matter if it stretches our generosity and leads us to realize that all we own belonged to God before it belonged to us. It’s hard to us to give money away when we don’t receive in return. To hand out cash especially, can be both hard and easy. You might become aware, for example, of how tightly we tend to clutch what we believe is ‘mine.’ But, you may also come to see the utter delight on someone’s face because of an unexpected blessing they receive through you.
I invite you to a Holy Solitude this Lenten season. Take time with God, find the rest you seek in Him and you will be blessed and discover your path to be the blessing God created you to be.
Blessings to you and yours this Lenten Season!