Sunday, March 1, 2020

40 days to more abundant life

Image result for new zealand prayer book ash wednesday

This week's focus is on spiritual health. 

I know that when I post on spiritual health a lot of readers immediately click away. It's a risk I take by having a tripartate blog that includes spiritual health, especially in a world that likes to keep the spiritual distinctly separate from all things scientific. But before you click away, pause for a moment and think about what it might be like to focus intentionally on creating a more abundant life for the next 40 days. Below are some of the messages and practices of Lent which I believe can be helpful to anyone:   

Remember your mortality,  the transient nature of life, and that none of us lives forever.  February 26 was Ash Wednesday, where in some Christian traditions ashes are placed on people's foreheads. The ashes are a sign of penitence and mortality, and  a remembrance that it is through Christ that we are given everlasting life. When the priest places the ashes on a person's forehead, they say, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return."

We all came from nothing, and we will return to that nothing. This thought helps us remain humble, keep things in perspective, and reminds us that we don't have forever to do the things we want to do in this life (including  contributing in some small way to make our corner of the world better, chasing that dream, spending time with those we love, and making amends to people we have wronged). 

Fast and abstain.  Lent is a time of fasting and abstinence. The bible is full of examples of fasting, and reasons to fast. There are different types of fasts--from fasting from all food entirely, to partial/intermittent fasts. We might also consider abstaining from certain foods (high fat foods, sugar, meat, or non-local foods) or substances (such as alcohol, tobacco, cannabis, street drugs, or caffeine) over the next 40 days. Christians who fast seek to draw closer to God through prayer and greater clarity of mind during fasts/times of abstinence. Yet anyone can benefit from stepping back and becoming more intentional about food and substance intake. 

Make amends for the ways we fall short. Penitence, the act of feeling/showing regret for one's sins,  is a big part of Lent in the Christian tradition. In Ash Wednesday services Episcopalians prayed a long prayer of penitence. Parts of this prayer can be helpful for anyone and can be used almost as a checklist. Look at the areas below and take stock of your own life--do you have regrets about any of these areas? Do you need to change your behaviors? Do you need to reach out to someone and say I am sorry?

  1. Not forgiving other people
  2. Displaying pride, hypocrisy, and impatience
  3. Being self indulgent
  4. Exploiting other people
  5. Envying other people
  6. Loving worldly goods and comforts
  7. Dishonesty in daily life and work
  8. Negligence in prayer/worship
  9. Blindness to human need and suffering
  10. Indifference to injustice and cruelty
  11. Making false judgments
  12. Thinking uncharitable thoughts 
  13. Being prejudice 
  14. Wasting creation and showing a lack of concern for those who come after us

Prayer and time for centering:  Prayer is a big part of Lent. Making time daily to draw closer to God  is important. Additionally,  daily time for meditation, journaling, art --anything you find centering--is very helpful for improving mental health.  If you'd like to see what short, focused daily prayer is like for the next 40 days, an on line resource that focuses on pausing, listening, thinking and praying can be found by clicking here.

I close with a prayer written for Ash Wednesday: 
Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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