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Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Prayer as Lent Begins

by Angier Brock

Lent comes around again this week. Seems like it was just here, but no, that was the 2011 version.  This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday 2012, the holy day that marks the start of Lent. The liturgical season of prayer, fasting, penance, reflection, and almsgiving is once more with us.   

Some years I have greeted Lent with open arms, eager to use its various practices to seek a closer connection with God or to deepen my relationship with the Jesus of the Gospels. Other years, I haven’t felt quite so enthusiastic about being penitential, let alone about undertaking a particular spiritual discipline, increasing my charitable giving, or relinquishing a specific habit or luxury for the forty requisite days. This year I confess that I have been more in the latter frame of mind than the former. So what’s a would-be pilgrim to do?

Because I love language, I turn to etymology. My dictionary reminds me that the word “Lent” comes into English by way of the German and Dutch words for spring—“Lenz” and “lente,” respectively—both of which derive from an Indo-European word root (“del-”) that means “long” (in the sense of length). The liturgical season of Lent thereby references the geo-physical lengthening of days here in the northern hemisphere.

Several other words can be traced back to the same root, making them linguistic kissing cousins of Lent. Two of them— “long” (in its other sense of yearning or having a great desire for something) and “linger”—are words I find particularly rich and evocative. I begin to reconsider the forty days of Lent as a time during which I am called to become more fully aware of my deepest longing and to think of Lenten practices as ways of lingering with that longing.

Somehow that simple shift has melted my resistance to embracing Lent this year. As I write this, I have not as yet committed myself to a particular practice, but I feel more open to the possibilities. That alone seems a grace, and one which leads me to this prayer as Lent begins:  That through my longing—and my willingness to linger in this liturgical season—I may move from grace to grace, growing in the love of God and in the habit of letting that love reach through me out into the rest of the world.

No matter what else happens during this time, the forty days of Lent will lead us through the last few weeks of winter and into the first few weeks of spring. No matter how you choose to observe—or not observe—Lent this year, may you too be touched by the grace and generosity of the season. 

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