For most of my life in the Episcopal Church I have used Lent. There was always one thing prevented or avoided -- food, candy, entertainment, etc -- so that I would not be so distracted by it for at least a while and perhaps gain some mastery over its temptations. Or a thing added to my broken routine of prayer, business, laziness, anxiety, procrastination, excitement, wonder and regret. Yes, I just described what was my typical day.
But what I did extra or new during Lent was always for me. Always to improve me. Yes to improve my prayer life but to improve it for me. Always to help me. Yes to work more efficiently or effectively but to help me. Always for me.
After I came to ordination and was called to the responsibilities of leadership in a chapel or parish I let my Lenten disciplines develop for the sake of the congregation. Don't be fooled by this potential humility. In many cases I was just trying to get others to join in my doing things more in line with my expertise. More prayer services in particular.
I'll admit that I used Lent to shape my role. I didn't want a bunch of meetings that required preparation or classes that needed study I just wanted to do what parishes needed a priest to do. I guess I was being selfish by also using Lent to guarantee that I was needed.
Seldom did I use Lent to become a better pastor or to improve my management skills, or to work more efficiently. I just wanted to simplify my life and avoid failure and disappointment.
This Growing a Rule of Life curriculum is not letting me do Lent like I've ever done it before. These Cowley Brothers are pushing me everyday to dig deeper into my own heart and farther into the world of God's love and more broadly into the ramifications of those considerations to do way more than trim a bad habit, conquer temptation or add more to my meager patterns of prayer.
Everyday there is another question to dwell within, another metaphor to wonder/wander through, another challenge to receive, another structure to imagine and practice in growing a rule of life.
Up to now in my life of Lenten disciplines both personal and parochial I have done just a minimum of questioning, wondering, challenging or structuring. I have done just enough for me. For me to say I "did Lent." For me not to question my alleluias come Easter. For me to lose a little weight, save a little money, work a little easier. For me.
Now I see that I was just cheating, at least short cutting, "filing by title" something that cried for more engagement, more enrichment, more content, more work.
But like a gardener's, the work of Lent, a la SSJE, is never ending and not rewarded in a moment. It isn't just planting, or just trellising, or just watering, or just harvesting.
The work of Lent for me this year is growing into the gardener my hopes deserve, into the daily care-taker that has several duties to be learned, appreciated, habituated and finally oblated. Rewarded more in the doing than in the being done.
This "growing a rule of life" is the work of Lent and I'm pretty sure it is for me but like ever before.