Lent: Finding Refuge in Study
As you may have gathered, what I would really like to do for Lent is curl up into the fetal position and only leave it to grab some eat–things thereby staying alive until Easter. However, I can't really do that. In fact, this primal urge to creep to the back of the cave and subsist on nuts, berries, and fungus from the wet stone walls is why I usually try to have some sort of Lenten discipline, instead.
If you have known me for a while, then you will realize that I am not a big fan of giving something up. Instead I tried to take something on. This year, as in most years, what I chose is boring ol' research and study.
When I was a kid we lived in the country, relatively far from my friends. Then, in middle school, I had one horrendous year where I literally knew no one my age who genuinely liked me. A quick change of educational institutions altered my situation somewhat. However, the new school was about half an hour to the south so even though I had friends, I still spent a great deal of time alone.
This basic sense of aloneness was alleviated by my love of books. I survived the years between my second time through seventh grade and the summer before my 12th grade year (when I had a car and a driver's license) by becoming deeply interested in something and reading everything I could about it.
The topics were self–selected and far-ranging. I can tell you a great deal about the labor movement, the Peloponnesian war, and every role-playing game ever made. I read the collected works of Franklin W Dixon, Philip K Dick, Jane Austen, and J.R.R. Tolkien. My interest in Christianity and religion in general also came from this time. The problem of course, was that these interests never coincided with my required coursework. Throughout life my grades have been mediocre at best (much to my parents' dismay).
While I don't read as much as I use to (except for work), this tendency to retreat into a subject is still my go-to spiritual practice. In fact, I am looking forward to the research portion of my folk music project (when I learn about the history of the song) as much as the performance part. I suspect that many of the selections will ultimately be made based on the stories behind them.
So my usual plan during Lent is to be more intentional about what I am reading. Last year was pretty biblical. I did a study of Mark and then preached a series using that text. This year, however, I needed a change. Also, I needed something less overtly "religious" and something less all-encompassing. Instead, I am reading Carl Sandberg's four-volume history of Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War. So far it is pretty good! Thanks to Sandberg's tendency toward digression and the obvious change in perspective from the battlefield to the capitol, I am learning a great deal about the personalities and the debates around the large and small issues of that time. Andrew Johnson is a whole lot more interesting than we were taught in high school!
I picked reading and research over more traditional Lenten practices because it fits me better. I do lots of the typical religious person things (prayer and meditation for example). However, for whatever reason, I find myself more fulfilled through the focus required to immerse myself in a topic.
I am bringing it up in Burbania Posts because you may be looking for something to take on this season. If traditional contemplative practices aren't your bag, I encourage you to do something anyway. Just think outside the box! It doesn't have to be boring, musty, texts. I just happen to like boring things. You may think of something else.
So what will it be? Will it be the usual change in exercise? Will it be your own research project? Will it be ten YA novels and a glass of wine each night? All it needs to be is something different, something that makes you think, something that fills you during a time of emptiness.
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