Monday, February 18, 2013

How to be a Monk: The Surprise of Lent

Most people probably think that being a monk is very hard.  And since most people associate Lent with a rather dour season of sacrifice and penance, it would seem that being a monk during Lent is especially hard.  Our friend Benedict seems to reinforce this picture with the first phrase from his chapter on the observance of Lent:  “The life of a monk ought to be a continuous Lent.”  So,  is anybody else depressed and ready to become a Unitarian (at least during Lent)? (RB 49:1)

Of course you have to watch out for Benedict, he can be tricky.  While his chapter on Lent has plenty of expected asceticism, with fasting, prayer and giving up, there is also a surprise.  The surprise is what underlies the reason for these Lenten practices.  Why does Benedict have his monk take on extra disciplines?

The answer is that Lent is about joy.  No, really, Benedict does have both oars in the water.  Just think about it.  Lent is a preparation for Easter, the event that is the summit and ultimate meaning of our faith, that Christ has conquered death and led us into new life.  Now that is something to be rejoice in.

So perhaps Lent isn’t about wallowing in our sins, especially since most of us don’t need a lot of encouragement to think badly about ourselves, nor is it about feeling virtuous because we managed to give up Facebook for 40 days (or at least a couple of days).  Perhaps the meaning of Lent comes from what Benedict talks about when he tells his monks “… to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times.” 

The “negligences” that most of us are prone to aren’t necessarily the fact that we drink coffee, eat chocolate, forget to prayer regularly, or the other traditional areas we focus on, perhaps we are negligent in our lack of joy.  Do we feel a deep-seated, profound joy at the coming of Easter?  During this Lent we can work on what keeps us from focusing on the most important aspects of our faith life.  What keeps us from joy, from love, from wonder, from passion?

The practices of Lent are designed to re-kindle the earth shattering reality of our faith.  We are invited to re-experience the transformative power of God’s love for us.  We are challenged to be shaken to our depths that we are people who stand at the empty tomb and whose lives will never be the same.

As Benedictine monastics what practices will help us shake off our negligences and re-awaken our joy this season?