Monday was Day 20 of Lent. The halfway mark presents an opportune moment to reflect on how everything has gone so far and make changes where needed. How have we maintained our Lenten promises? How have we fallen short? What has been easy? Challenging? What has surprised us at mass or in prayer? Where have we recalled God’s presence? When have we had a hard time seeing the Spirit’s hand in our lives?
If I am being honest with myself, my commitment to my Lenten practice – to pray the Ignatian Examen each day – has been lukewarm at best. Yes, I have done some variation of a review most days, and yes, I have experienced unanticipated fruits in prayer and life in general.
For some reason, something still feels off. Lack of prayer is the obvious answer on the days I simply do not do the Examen. On the days I do, however, I have found myself treating prayer the way I do work, unread e-mails and a host of other activities and obligations in my life: as items on a to-do list. I pray with an unhelpfully stringent attempt to follow a pre-arranged version of the Examen. I make my goal completing the task as opposed to genuinely exploring how I have encountered God in my day and where my eyes or judgment have been clouded.
In the past, I have often been circumspect when choosing a Lenten commitment or New Year’s Resolution. It seemed oddly daunting. What if I fail or find myself called to some other practice more conducive to growth? The answer to the former concern, of course, is that we all fail and are always invited to try again. The answer to the latter is trickier.
Throughout the Gospels, Jesus shines light on the spirit versus the letter of the law. The letter of the law is the focus of the scribes and Pharisees: no picking grain on the Sabbath; no work, even if it means helping someone in need. What matters is following the rules, word for word.
While Jesus acknowledges that he “did not come to abolish but to fulfill” the Law and Prophets, he also shows himself to be keenly aware of the real purpose behind God’s commandments, which are about so much more than strict adherence. The Sabbath, for example, is a gift of rest more than an obligation. Ultimately, our call is to enter more deeply into love with God, not to more correctly obey a headmaster.
In seeking to approach Lent with more devotion, I am not so much looking for improvement in maintaining my Lenten promise as I am richness in my faith life, however it may come.