The Spirit of Lent

Lent is a season of prayer for interior renewal.

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The somber chant of the Miserere (Psalm 51) on Ash Wednesday instills within us the spirit of this season of repentance:

A clean heart create for me, O God,
and a steadfast spirit renew within me.
Cast me not out from your presence,
and your holy spirit take not from me.
Give me back the joy of your salvation,
and a willing spirit sustain in me. (verses 12-14)

We pray for the kind of interior renewal that only God’s grace can provide. God’s creative power can remake our hearts and give us back a spirit that longs for God’s presence and the joy of God’s salvation. This is the spirit of Lent, the spirit that lectio divina encourages within us. The season is not about giving up something for God, but about desiring God again, so that he may remake our hearts.

We often think of Lent in terms of self-inflicted suffering and glum acts of penance. But a persistent spirit of sadness and gloominess is not a Christian one. In the gospel reading for Ash Wednesday, Jesus urges us to fast without glumness, to pray without vanity, and to give alms without smugness (Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18). Jesus advocates these traditional practices of Lent not so that we will receive a reward from God or praise from anyone else. Fasting, prayer, and almsgiving, as encouraged by Jesus, are ways of seeking God and responding to his presence.

The practice of lectio divina can purify these disciplines within us. Fasting can help keep our spirits uncluttered by the concerns of the world and more sensitive to listening to God’s voice in Scripture. Prayer behind closed doors can cultivate the quiet focus and purity of heart so necessary for reflective meditation on God’s word. Almsgiving without others noticing it becomes a contemplative response of a transformed heart, which is the result of lectio divina.

Excerpted from Conversing with God in Lent by Stephen J. Binz (The Word Among Us Press, 2010). Available at wau.org/books

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