Praying Towards Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

As part of our Ash Wednesday service, the celebrant invites us to the observance of a holy Lent. We are invited to examine our spiritual intentions. This is a time when we humbly ask ourselves, “What is essential for me as a faithful believer?”  How would you respond to that question?  For me, it is my relationship with God. Everything else flows from this intimate experience of the Holy.  When I find myself falling short of what it means to live as a Christian, it usually is because I take this relationship with the divine for granted and I have somehow turned away from it.

The season of Lent is often associated with “giving up something”, be it chocolate, movies or fast-food.  This holy time is much more than forty days of extreme deprivation. Lent is this time of holy returning and renewal.  Lent is this time of remembering of what is essential for our spiritual wellness. It is a time of sacred intention: placing God first in our lives.

And yes, Lent is associated with ascetic disciplines. I know that the word discipline has negative connotations.  Let us remember that the word discipline and the word disciple share the same root word focusing on learning or teaching.  As Christians, we hold ourselves in the lineage of the disciples.  This means that we also acknowledge the value of spiritual disciplines.  Today’s Gospel mentions the three traditional Lenten disciplines of almsgiving, prayer and fasting.  I view these disciplines as a self-study course where the learning objective is restoring God’s primary place in our lives.

Almsgiving teaches us that we are not the center of the world.  We are invited to exhibit a generosity of spirit. This is demonstrated by our temporal generosity towards others. As we respond in this way, we learn that we serve Christ by humbly serving others and consciously meeting their needs. 

Prayer teaches us the importance of spending intentional time with God.  All relationships require time if they are to deepen and develop.  The Lenten practice of prayer is time to “let God be God.”  This is time to listen; it is time to rest in God; it is time to open ourselves to the holy presence that is the source and ground of our being.

Fasting teaches us the importance of removing any distractions that take priority over our relationship with God.  This practice redirects our attention.  As we consciously limit our physical consumption, we hone our awareness of what we value and what we think we need each day.  In this sense, fasting is a Christian version of a mindfulness practice.

Whatever our chosen Lenten disciplines, it is clear from today’s Gospel that we should not be motivated by what others will think of our efforts.  Our disciplines are to be done in secret so that we minimize any likelihood of spiritual pride.  Perhaps over the course of this season, we might become more Christ-like in our actions.  

Jesus tells us at the end of our Gospel reading that “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” As we begin another Lenten season today, let us remember that our greatest treasure is our relationship with God.   May we humbly engage the spiritual course of our chosen disciplines over these next forty days.