As someone relatively new to the Liturgical Year, I have nothing authoritative to say about Lent, but I love this season.  As a penitential season it is much easier to celebrate than Advent, which gets entangled with the secular celebration of Christmas.  And Lenten disciplines have all the fun of New Year's resolutions but with a statute of limitations.

Why would anyone share something as personal as Lenten disciplines with the world?  Three reasons.
  • People blog about all sorts of personal things.  (Okay, this makes it four; it's not a legitimate reason, but it's too obvious not to mention.)
  • In future years, when I wonder (because I can't remember) what I did for Lent in previous years, I'll be able to find it here.
  • Publishing my disciplines makes me slightly more likely to be able to stick with them.
  • Several people have asked about ideas for different ways of approaching Lent besides the traditional abstention from meat or sugar, and my disciplines are usually on the odd side, as I've written about before.
What I thought about giving up for Lent this year, but ruled out almost immediately:
  • The computer  Foregoing this time-sink would, indeed, free up much time for prayer and re-orienting of my life, but the cost would be too great.  The computer is my primary means of communication with far-flung loved ones, nearly my only source of news, and is required for most of the work that I do.  Giving it up would plunge my life into more chaos, not less.
  • Blogging  Giving up blogging seems to be a popular Lenten discipline, but it's too good an exercise for my mind, as well as my way of keeping in touch with family and friends.
  • Genealogy  This is another tremendous time-sink, but since my current goal is to eat this dinosaur in small but steady bites, it makes no sense to fast for nearly a month and a half then be overwhelmed after Easter.  The sooner I get my recent research entered, the more likely I am to be able to decipher my chicken-scratch notes.

What I finally settled on:

  • The computer goes off at 9:00 every night.   When I stick to a 10 p.m. bedtime, my life goes much better, but that's not always easy, especially when I'm in the middle of a project and "just one more thing" can lead to midnight or beyond.  Not only are most of my projects computer-oriented, but for some reason computing is one of those areas where I blink and two hours have passed. If I get nothing else from this discipline, at least I'll be better rested.
  • I'm giving up reading and/or working puzzles while I eat.  Most of you will find this odd, but it is a real sacrifice for me.  I agree wholeheartedly with C. S. Lewis, who said, "Eating and reading are two pleasures that combine admirably." There's no reason not to combine them; I'm doing this because it's a great pleasure I can dispense with for 40 days as an exercise in self-denial, without troubling anyone else or falling terribly behind in my work.  Exception:  Porter and I sometimes do puzzles together during meals; for obvious reasons I'm not abstaining from them.
  • I'll spend between a half hour and an hour reading each day.  Preferably the longer time, though I haven't managed it yet.  I know; that's hardly a sacrifice.  But I've noticed that over the last several years my reading has become even more fractured and fragmented than it was when I had small children at home, if that were possible.  I read blogs, articles, and news stories online; I listen to audio books in the car as I run errands, I skim magazines.  I read books in five-minute gulps as I can throughout the day—on visits to the "reading room," while eating, while falling asleep at night.  What I'm missing is concentrated time on a single, book-length topic, and I have a very large stack of quality books—many recently purchased and one overdue at the library—on which the derivative of my progress is negative.  I'm hoping that a short, but consistent, dedicated time will reverse the trend.
That's it.  Nothing spectacular, nor difficult.  But definitely different.
Posted by sursumcorda on Friday, February 27, 2009 at 10:26 am | Edit
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It seems that two of your resolutions, turning off the computer and reading more, are ones that you have chosen to have a positive impact on your life. However, the one where you give up reading/puzzles while eating seems to be one simply of deprivation.

Do you think Lent should be a time of sacrifice or should it be one of improvement? I fear I am not saying this correctly. I know some people, instead of giving something up, do something positive to affect change, and not necessarily in their own lives.

So, what do you think the resolutions should accomplish? Do the changes you make like less computer, more reading allow you to spend more time drawing closer to God?

This is something I am curious about, but I think that the tone of the way I have written it may come across as being more confrontational. Please understand that it is not meant to be that way.

Posted by dstb on Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 10:10 am

Not to worry. :) I have no consistent, well-thought out philosophy of Lenten discipline. The overarching goal is to get closer to God, or perhaps allowing him to get closer to me is a better way of putting it. One avenue in that direction is any form of fasting in which I consciously say no to my desires. In former times, few people thought about exercising—daily life was exercise enough. But now most of us must make a conscious choice to exercise because the natural opportunities aren't there. Similarly, people had plenty of situations in which practicing self-denial was more obviously important than it is now: overeating might lead to running out of food until next harvest, instead of running to the grocery store. One of the weaknesses of our society is borne of our ability to get what we want when we want it, and a Lenten fast of any sort gives me a good opportunity to exercise those unused "muscles." That's also why I play the "goldfish game" with Jonathan and Noah: They get one goldfish cracker, which they can eat immediately if they wish, but if they hold onto it for a given time (varying, depending on age and situation), they'll get a second cracker. Just a small exercise in delayed gratification. In itself, this kind of fast does not obviously and directly lead me closer to God, but it lays a foundation for further growth.

The positive disciplines are the other side of the coin, another opportunity for God to work in my life in different way—a window opened or a door left ajar for him to use as he pleases.

Deprivation exercises mean different things to different people. Many people have said that fasting from food, for example, gives them more time to pray, and being hungry reminds them to think about God. It doesn't work that way for me. Thinking about God is natural and ongoing, but being hungry makes me think about being hungry.

As I said, I have nothing authoritative to say about Lent, but having come to the observance late in life I'm feeling free to make of it what seems to work best for me, as long as I stay within the general guidelines of repentance, self-examination, and being open to whatever God might choose to do through the process.

I'd love to know your thoughts, and those of others who wish to share.

Posted by SursumCorda on Saturday, February 28, 2009 at 11:25 am
Easter Cannot Come Too Soon
Excerpt: Looking back at my Lenten disciplines for 2009, I find it was a surprising exercise.  While I can't say I was perfect in keeping them, two worked so well I intend to continue the practices. The computer goes off at 9:00 every night.  ...
Weblog: Lift Up Your Hearts!
Date: April 10, 2009, 3:04 pm
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