Archive for category Lent

Forty lentings for the season of the cross

I just learned a new word that a few friends have freshly minted: lenting.  It’s the verbal form of Lent, meaning “giving something up for Lent.”  As in, “I’d love to hang out with you at the pub but I’m lenting alcohol.”

Giving something up for Lent (what my friends call “lenting”) is a common practice in this season of the cross.  It’s not done to earn spiritual brownie points with God but instead is a concrete, embodied way of walking with Jesus in his Passion.  lent

This year, I’ve had trouble narrowing down to one Lenten practice, one thing I’m going to be lenting (I’d consider giving up coffee … for the afternoons of Lent).  Our family decided on something to practice together but I hadn’t landed on a personal Lent practice.  Then a brainwave – what about a series of Lenten practices, a different one for every day of Lent.  My wife thought this was a crappy idea, out of sync with the vigor of an extended lenting and likely a reflection of my indolent and undisciplined life (she didn’t exactly use those words but its amazing how much gets communicated with a glance).

I still think its not a horrible idea.  So for all you Jesus followers who are still wondering how to mark Lent, here’s an accessible, day by day series of lentings, forty different practices to walk the way with Jesus in his Passion.

  1. - enjoy five minutes of silence, quieting yourself in God’s presence.
  2. - put a $20 in your pocket and give it away today.
  3. - for 5 minutes hold a posture of empty hands (hands open, palms up), and reflect on your need for God.
  4. - slow down and become aware of your breathing.  Pray a simple breath prayer, with the in-and-out bellows of your lungs and diaphragm: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
  5. - pray for someone who is mourning and write a note of comfort.
  6. - unplug your life and hold an electronics fast today
  7. - give up complaining for the day
  8. - read Psalm 51
  9. - go through your closet, dresser and garage to find 5 things to give away to your local thrift store.
  10. - hold a simple fast today, just vegetables and water.
  11. - fast from defending or justifying yourself, reminding yourself all the while of God’s approval of you in Jesus.
  12. - forgive a debt that is owed to you (financial or otherwise)
  13. - take 5 minutes to really see something; observe and pay focused attention to one thing.
  14. - watch Of Gods and Men and reflect on Jesus’ call to be peacemakers.
  15. - pray for Christians who are being persecuted
  16. - throughout the day, as soon as you feel an anxiety or worry, immediately give it to God.
  17. - refrain from blaming the world for the decay and problems in life today; instead look for alternative explanations.
  18. - light a candle and let it remind you of the call to push back darkness wherever you are.
  19. - spend some time with a good book of art on the crucifixion (one good possibility is Rien Poortvliet’s He was one of us)
  20. - keep a gratitude list all day
  21. - pray for your enemies
  22. - confess your sins to a friend or spouse (the real junk not the safe, generic stuff)
  23. - give seven genuine, thoughtful compliments today
  24. - buy nothing today
  25. - it’s time – give up coffee for the day
  26. - fast from insults and sarcasm (both spoken and mental – including no rolling eyes!)
  27. - forgive someone who hurt you
  28. - pray for someone going through a divorce or a relationship breakdown
  29. - dwell on Luci Shaw’s poem Trauma Center
  30. - pray today’s news
  31. - secretly clean the dishes at the office kitchen or in your home
  32. - pray Psalm 32
  33. - judge no one today (but more likely, inventory every judgmental thought, word or attitude today and ask for forgiveness as it arises).
  34. - fast from social media.
  35. - buy a grocery gift card and give it to a panhandler or homeless person you meet
  36. - try the daily prayer at
  37. - take a nap (your body leading the way in resting in Christ’s completed work)
  38. - wash someone’s feet (not metaphorically but actually)
  39. - pray Psalm 22
  40. - listen to U2’s 40 and remember Resurrection Sunday’s coming – it’s not that far off.  Or watch 40 here


My soundtrack for Lent

Lent begins this Wednesday and I’ve landed on this year’s soundtrack for this season of repentance – Mumford & Sons Sigh no more.  I know I’ve blogged on them earlier here, but this album continues to capture me and much of the honest, plaintive confession of Lent.

The title song Sigh no more confesses: “My heart was never pure / You know me” and then hopes for a “love that will not betray you / dismay or enslave you, it will set you free.”  The Cave cries out the hope of Lenten penitence – “I need freedom now / and I need to know how / to live my life as its meant to be.”  Lent is a long study in giving up all the ways we try to find life, finding life as its meant to be lived in Jesus and his passion.

And it keeps coming.  In Roll Away Your Stone, they name the empty, endless chase to fill our hearts with things which always end up as ashes, and yet the hope found by every prodigal returning home to God: “You told me that I would find a hole / within the fragile substance of my soul / And I have filled this void with things unreal / And all the while my character it steals / But darkness is a harsh term don’t you think? / And yet it dominates the things I seek / it seems that all my bridges has been burned / you say that’s exactly how this grace thing works / it’s not the long walk home that will change this heart / but the welcome I receive with a restart.

Awake My Soul is an honest probe of a lumpy heart:  “How fickle my heart and how woozy my eyes / I struggle to find any truth in your lies / And now my heart stumbles on things I don’t know / This weakness I feel I must finally show.”  Isn’t this what Lent is – an invitation to the painful journey of revealing our weaknesses, our broken hearts and disjointed lives, praying that God would awaken us to resurrection life?

And then there’s Little Lion Man, my choice for this year’s Lent heart song.  Likely written about a love lost, it’s a powerful, pounding, holding-nothing-back lament of regret and heartbreak, equally applicable to my unfaithful heart for God:

Weep for yourself, my man / you’ll never be what is in your heart / Weep little lion man / you’re not as brave as you were at the start / Rate yourself and rake yourself / take all the courage you have left / wasted on fixing all the problems that you made in your own head / But it was not your fault but mine / …  Tremble for yourself, my man / you know that you have seen this all before / tremble little lion man / you’ll never settle any of your score / your grace is wasted in your face /” And don’t miss the spot in the song (2:45) where the band begins a sung cry, a gut-level, lyric-less lament – listen to it (see below) as the voice of Lent.

The album title comes from Shakespeare’s “Much Ado about nothing” (Act 2, scene 3: “Sigh no more, ladies, sigh no more, Men were deceivers ever, One foot in sea, and one on shore, To one thing constant never”) – this band is wonderfully literate.  In this scene from Shakespeare, Balthasar urges the other women to sigh no more, to let go of the disappointment and expectation for men to change and, instead, accept and love them as they are. Throughout Lent I’m faced with my own shadows, left sighing with disappointment again, wishing for change in my fickle heart.  But the gospel of Jesus Christ is the stunning call to sigh no more, telling me I’m accepted in spite of myself.  That is the work of Lent and the starting point of any real change, of a resurrection.

Below is the video for Little Lion Man (just a word of caution – if you’re offended by the use of the f-bomb, then do avoid this song).

<p><a href=”″>Mumford & Sons – “Little Lion Man”</a> from <a href=””>Mikey Levelle</a> on <a href=””>Vimeo</a&gt;.</p>


Dust to dust

Get ready to see a peculiar sight this coming Wednesday.  You’ll likely note a smudge of dirt on the guy serving up your coffee or the woman working in the next door office.  They didn’t forget to shower; it’s not ink from their newspaper.  It’s Ash Wednesday which begins the season of Lent, and for many Christians they enter this season receiving the mark of the cross, smudged on their forehead with an ash-oil mixture.  Lent is the 40 day season of penitence, prayer, passion and preparation (that’s some crazy alliteration) to walk with Christ towards the cross and welcome the resurrection.

Below is the introduction to Lent from my daily prayer book Seeking God’s Face.

Lent carries almost too much religious baggage with it for some people, popularly understood as a season of joyless custom and duty.  How then do we keep the gospel front and centre in this season of shadows?  The cross keeps our gospel focus clear.  Lent is a season to journey with Jesus in his passion, to survey the cross, taking the measure of Christ’s love in his suffering and death.

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, Lent is the forty-day season leading up to Easter. (If you count all the days, there are more than forty, but the Sundays are not counted as part of Lent, as they are resurrection celebrations held throughout the season.)  It begins with the stark reminder that “from dust you have come and to dust you will return” and leads toward Jesus’ final week, marked by Palm Sunday and stopping short of the resurrection celebration of Easter morning.  Ashes are a good emblem of Lent, a picture of our own mortality and spiritual condition, a sign of Lent’s penitent spirit, and yet a hint of the hope of renewal.

Celebration isn’t the word to use for our participation in Lent.  It is a somber journey of spiritual preparation and renewal, marked especially by repentance and prayer.  In our pain-averse culture, Lent stands apart by not shrinking away from suffering but cultivating in us the wisdom that growth often (some might say only) comes through suffering.  In a time and place of religious freedom, where we mostly don’t suffer for following Christ, Lent invites us to willingly identify with Christ’s suffering through fasting or other forms of self-denial.

The spare and sober nature of Lent is healthy for the heart and true to the gospel, scrubbing away frothy spirituality by calling us to say ‘no’ to ourselves in order to experience a greater ‘yes’ in Jesus.  It helps to imprint the form of the cross in our lives, recognizing that the news of the risen Lord Jesus is not good without the way of the cross.  Lent prepares us to experience the reality of resurrection joy only by first recognizing the depth of our sin that pinned Christ to the cross.

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