Dave Meserve and I have written a half dozen Advent Guides together and wanted to try our hand at a Lenten Guide. A printed form (like our Advent Guides) did not make sense this year, so we have decided to offer it digitally. This week’s introduction is written by Dave.
Welcome to Lent.
Lent is a gift the ancient church has given us that often remains unopened. For some it is too antiquated or intimidating. For many it is simply a mystery that holds intrigue but lacks direction. This Lent guide is an attempt to provide some gracious direction for those who may want a fresh take—or even a first take—on an ancient season. And so…
• If you know Lent in your bones and hope for a fresh experience of the season…
• If you grew up seeing it from afar (likely, across the street at the Orthodox or Catholic Church) and are ready to explore it for yourselves…
• If your default position remains a safe distant from organized religion and yet, you still long for a true, spiritual experience…
May this guide play a small part in helping you find what your heart truly seeks.
The Season of Lent
We begin our journey with a few helpful ways to approach Lent:
Lent is a season. Originally a time of preparation for Easter baptisms, Lent expanded to 40 days and included the whole congregation. Its length is intentional. In the church world, we look at 10% as a “tithe” number — one tenth of your income set aside for holy use. As Lent is roughly 10% of a year, it can be viewed as a time to intentionally set apart a portion to be especially mindful regarding our spiritual life.
Lent is a messy season. The name itself comes from a German word meaning “lengthen.” As the days get longer, it coincides with the coming of spring and the ending of winter. We call it “mud time” where the melted snow reveals all the debris underneath, a helpful metaphor for our spiritual lives. It is while we address the messiness of the season we notice the buds of new growth beginning to sprout.
Lent is an intentional season. To pursue spiritual growth through Lent requires a level of focus and this focus must happen within a frantic culture where reflection and resolve have never been more elusive. We know that, without intention, growth rarely occurs. This makes the very act of committing to practice Lent counter-cultural.
Lent is to be practiced. We don’t “practice church,” we practice Lent. Even the most irreligious recognize the active part of the season: “What are you giving up for Lent?” While we often dumb-down Lent to some form of self-improvement program, we understand that Lent is not a passive endeavor. As well, embedded in the idea of practice is that we practice to get better. We don’t have to be very good at it—and that is strangely comforting.
In all, Lent is an intentional, messy season where we practice that which helps us grow into the kind of people were were designed to be, the kind of people who look more and more like Jesus. This is the gift of the ancient Church and now is the time to open it anew.
Our Theme: The Deadly Virtues
To help focus our Lent, we have chosen a theme to center our thoughts and hopes and practices: “The 7 Deadly Virtues,” a twist on the ancient list of vices.
Before Gregory the Great (circa 600 A.D) was honing the list of vices to avoid, others were writing about the virtues to engage. One such writer coined the term, “Contrary Virtues,” an attempt to combat the sinful seven. In modern vernacular, he understood that “a good offense is the best defense”. We think he was right.
We borrowed “deadly” as our adjective for the same reason it was attached to “sins”. Certain sins were considered “deadly”, not in the sense that they are beyond pardon but rather in the sense that they are “root” sins — they lead to other sins. Similarly, “deadly” virtues are “root” virtues: their presence and practice leads to the formation of other virtues.
Our use of “deadly” is also a nod to the seriousness of the subject. These virtues are not tame niceties that we put on to be impressive but divinely directed strategies in the battle for our souls. These particular virtues and vices cannot coexist; we are moving toward one or the other. Lent is an intentional time to move toward the “deadly,” virtuous life of Christ.
Using This Guide
Each week we will introduce one deadly virtue through a short writing and a response section.
The writing will tease out the nature of each virtue—often in light of the corresponding vice. The Christian Scriptures will be our primary backdrop but, we will resource other sources of wisdom as well.
The response section will offer ideas and direction regarding how to nurture a particular virtue. It will include some stories to research, resources to explore and practices to try on, if only for the week. All this is in hopes of forming the right kind of virtuous habits.
As with any adventure, participating within a community of any size heightens the effectiveness and, likely, the pleasure of the pursuit. We hope you find some friends to make this Lenten journey with you.
Overall, we hope GRACE covers all of your efforts along with all your inner thoughts during this season of Lent. The last thing most of us need is another spiritual program where we fall short. That is not the heart of this guide and certainly not the heart of Lent.
May you have compassion toward yourself,
love others through imperfections
and be generous with your heart.
May you practice temperance with joy,
diligence with affection,
and humility with accomplishment.
And may you find yourselves at peace with God.
Your companions on the journey,
– Mike & Dave.