Lent isn't like Advent for me. I realize that structurally they seem very similar. One lasts about a month right before Christmas. The other is slightly longer and ends with Easter. Therefore the casual observer can be forgiven for lumping them together. However, I don't see them the same way. Partly this just has to do with my attitude.
You see, I am not at my best during the wintertime. People who know me will tell you that I am naturally moody. For whatever reason my greatest susceptibility to the funk is right about now. When I step up to the beginning of Lent I'm not feeling a post – Thanksgiving rush of seasonal enthusiasm. Instead I am in the midst of a grim slog through the darkness.
In fact, that is the biggest difference. Advent is a walk through the darkness, but there is always a little light. I am able to put together a series of rituals for myself, for the family, and for the church that bring us from one place to another. Every day I send out a little post for my "Facebook Advent Calendar". The secular culture around us, of course, wants to skip Advent all together in favor of a four week festival of consumption. While I don't really agree with this approach, I do enjoy the steady diet of parties, concerts, and festivals. By the end of the season I am ready for Christmas.
Lent, on the other hand, comes at a fragile time for many of us. It certainly does for me. I have never heard of a "Lent party". Super Bowl Sunday and Valentine's Day are nice but not consistent enough. Winter is cold (not so much literally this year, but definitely metaphorically). It is hard sometimes just to peel myself out of bed. Perhaps this is why--though I don't get the warm holiday fuzzies-- I need Lent more than Advent. After all, at times we all could use a little discipline to get going.
The trick for Lent is to watch for smaller, quieter signs of grace. This morning, when I moved my car across the street to facilitate a quick getaway for part of the morning school run, I noticed that the sky and the air were just a bit lighter than they were the day before. Earlier this week I had a seemingly innocuous conversation that helped me think about some things. Keep on the lookout. You never know what you will find.
Also, I need to get out. There are people who do well sitting by themselves but I just don't. If you are that sort of person, perhaps your Lenten discipline can be a social one. I might just join you in that. Actually, church is a great help for getting out and busy. I realize that may be surprising if you aren't part of a congregation (the stereotype of church is all candles, incense and silent drama, after all) or if your congregation leans more toward the contemplative side of things. In my experience, though. There is plenty of positive chaos in a religious community. I plan to tap into it.
As Lent comes closer I am doing my best to develop a plan. Part of this plan is for work. There needs to be a sermon theme, for example. Right now we are considering one in which we discuss current events and issues like the Flint water crisis and the election coming up. Connecting that back to the life of the spirit shouldn't be all that difficult. If we are trying to be authentically ourselves, then how we act in the world is part of that journey.
Still, there is a part of my Lent plans that is personal. How do I get up in the morning? How do I find meaning in a time when meaning is hard to find? I will figure it out, of course, and then (because life forms preaching) whatever comes up will influence my work.
I am not the only one who tends to slip on the ice in the dark of winter. What are your plans?