Lent, the 40 days preceding the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus, is supposed to be a time of fasting, where we chocoholics take an “s” of out the word “dessert,” and are left with “desert.”
Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Season of Lent. It is a season of penance, reflection, and fasting which prepares us for Christ’s Resurrection on Easter Sunday, through which we attain redemption.
Actually, the opposite is true.
1. Fold Your Hands
Some ways you can tell someone is lying: his arm and leg movement will be limited, stiff, and towards his own body; she avoids eye contact; he will touch his face, throat, and mouth a lot. I learned at a young age the power of body language. I was a clumsy girl, so my mom enrolled me in ballet classes, which I took for 14 years. My instructors pulled back my shoulders every two minutes-so that I would project the confidence that I didn’t feel. “Let your body lead,” they said. “And your mind will follow.” That is why I always fold my hands when I pray. I want my body to tell God that I’m talking to Him, even if my mind is off wandering elsewhere.
2. Say Thank You
Gratitude, they say, is the highest form of prayer. It’s also the most difficult when I’m in a depressive cycle or feel a panic attack coming on. During Lent, I try to pay special attention to all the small, wonderful things around me: that my kids aren’t using diapers anymore, that they don’t have disabilities, that my husband works around the corner and can come home for lunch.
My mom and dad told my sisters and me that when someone gives you a gift-no matter how small-you ALWAYS write a thank-you letter. It’s the polite thing to do. So, as I try to teach my kids the same lesson, I remind myself to say thank you to God, as well. That’s just plain good manners.
3. Light a Candle
Even though there is no “Lenten wreath” like an Advent wreath, I light candles in the same manner during Lent as I do in the days preceding Christmas. For some reason, I feel like God hears me better if I stick my face near a hot, glowing body of flame. The scarlet blaze generates a feeling of hope, of fierce tenacity, that whispers: “Hang in there.”
4. Sing the Verses
I’ve been known to belt out the lyrics of “Be Not Afraid,” and “On Eagles’ Wings” in the shower. And I do admit, I get chills every time I sing the “Our Father” or “Amazing Grace.” In the church bulletin recently, I read that “singing is praying twice.” So if I sing a refrain three times, that’s like saying six prayers, right? Right?
5. Use Prayer Beads
You don’t have to be Catholic or even Christian to handle prayer beads. In fact, Christians were probably the last to use them, after Hindus, Buddhists, and Muslims. I postulate that counting prayers was implemented out of practical necessity by all the major world religions to assist persons such as myself with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. For me, it’s simply an easy way I can keep track of my prayers, because when I say a rosary without one-like when I run-I always lose count (wait, this is my fifth decade, no, fourth, oh man, I don’t remember).
The rosary for me is also like Prayer for Dummies. I don’t have to compose any original prose to say it. And the prayers are there in my memory from second grade. On the good days, I remember to think holy thoughts (or at least consider the life of Jesus and Mary once) during the devotion. But most of the time the mouth is automatically moving with the beads, without tons of energy or effort. And that’s actually a wonderful feeling.
6. Yell Like Hell
Catholic author Ronald Rolheiser is with me on this (sort of). He writes in Forgotten Among the Lilies that wrestling with God is a form of prayer: “The refusal to accept the harshness of God’s ways in the name of his love is an authentic form of prayer. Indeed the prophets and saints were not always in the habit of simply saying, ‘Thy will be done.’ They often fought, challenged, squirmed and begged as a way of saying ‘Thy will be changed!”Prayer from the heart originates when you pray earnestly and vocally sometimes.
I wish you a great Lenten journey. Here is some music to use for the next 40 days