Lent has arrived, and it has come rather late this year. Christmas decorations are long gone and we have survived the bitter cold. Last week we burned palms and made ashes to put on our foreheads for the beginning of Lent. This year the theme for Lent is: “Lord, Teach Us How to Pray.”
I always think that Lent is getting back to the basics, and more specifically, getting back to the basics in our spiritual journey. Sometimes we have wandered off or even slacked off in the spiritual life. Now is the time to refocus and re-center ourselves on what is truly important. It is a time to get back to a focus of the cross. Christ calls us to carry our crosses daily, but sometimes my relationship with Christ is lacking and my time to think about sacrificing for others or God is way in the back of my mind.
From a liturgical point of view, Lent is a time for simplicity. The flowers and decorations are scaled back to focus on the stark reality of the cross. Even the music is simplistic, focusing on a less triumphal and more stark reality of the struggles in the rhythm of life. It’s the desert experience; it’s the stripping away of the extravagances of life to enter into a silence in which we can find God. It’s about walking out of a bright spotlight and into a soft darkness in order to find the Light of the World.
The readings for Ash Wednesday set the tone for the season by speaking about prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. With the theme for this Lent being, “Lord, teach us how to pray” we come back to one of the basics: prayer.
A parishioner once approached me in a distant parish a long time ago. She said that she hears a lot about praying and that we need to pray more, but what she didn’t hear was HOW to pray. That criticism was something I continued to ponder on that year, and for years to come. How do I personally pray? And how do I teach others how to pray?
It takes me back to my roots, when my mother had us kneel at the side of my bed and taught us the Hail Mary and the Guardian Angel Prayer. It takes me back to the prayers I learned both at Mass and in school. It takes me back to the Saturday evening Masses we attended. We got there at least a half hour before Mass was to begin. And what did I do for a half hour before Mass, I sat there doing nothing; yet over time, began to talk to God, and allowed God to teach me how to pray. There were times when a half hour was an eternity, and other times when it was too short. How I prayed back then is much different from how I pray today. Yes, there are still elements that stay the same, but also different parts that have grown over the years. There were new experiences when I found God speaking to me, and old prayers that I now see differently. How do I pray?
This question has intrigued me and I have always asked God if I was praying the right way. I have always turned towards the saints for help and insight as to what prayer looks like and how one prays. This year we have a treat! We will be offering some opportunities to immerse ourselves in different varieties of prayer. Surely we will continue to have the traditional Stations of the Cross each week, and Eucharistic Adoration on First Fridays, and daily Mass, but there will be other opportunities to explore how others pray. There will be Ignatian Prayer, going back to Saint Ignatius and how he discovered how to pray, and living Stations, and vespers (or evening prayer) sung for centuries by monks in monasteries, and even a labyrinth from the Middle Ages that helped one focus as they entered a church.
I invite you to consider looking at this question yourself: How do I pray? How do I listen to God and how do I hear what God is telling me?
These seem like basic questions, and they are, but also profound questions that call us to a deeper relationship with God. May this Lent be a time of finding time to get away for a bit so that we can find some silence in the noise of this world, and calm ourselves down to feel the gentle whisper of our Lord calling us back to Himself. Can we find some time in the middle of a bustling city to find a desert where our heart can listen for God? I would invite you to consider looking this Lent to how you pray and how you communicate with God, and if you can, come to some of the sessions in which we explore different ways in which the Church prays.