I haven't got a whole lot on my mind lately besides personal projects, but I do have one small observation to make about current events. Ash Wednesday marked the beginning of another Lent season. While I'm not into the ceremony of ashes, I have gotten more into the fasting than I've ever been in the past.
Tom, Maya and the kids have been observing Lent as a family. I'm not sure how long they've done it together, but I've noticed it the last couple years. I don't know if my parents have ever really gotten into Lent. Other friends have been more vocal about observing Lent in recent years as well. My own interest may stem from growing observance of Lent among friends and family, or from being more conscious about my own faith, or perhaps both.
In any case, I've started fasting from my own habitual activities in observance of Lent. It would probably be unwise for me to observe a food fast for forty days, but I do want to start incorporating small food fasts into my own walk in the future. It would be of some spiritual benefit, and I've even heard it has some physical health benefits as well. For now I'm sticking with habit/activity fasts for Lent.
Last year, I would say, was my first real sacrificial Lenten fast. I chose to cut out news websites from my daily routine. I've found it is easy to get tied into keeping up on the news throughout the day at work while taking little breaks here and there. In many cases that habit of news reading follows me home and into the evenings. My previous Lenten fasts were really not challenging enough for me to even remember what they were. I may have fasted from video games one year, but at that point video games really didn't have a huge draw on my attention, so avoiding them was quite easy and not a great trigger for reflection.
When I took out the news from my schedule, I noticed it. I no longer could spend my time reading headlines and digging into thought pieces and technical reports. Whenever I was fed up with work and needing a break, it was immediately obvious that I couldn't draw on my shortlist of news links to distract me from my frustrations. And while I didn't go full bore on my Lenten preparations last year, it did trigger me to reflect on my actions and be conscious of my Lent observation.
The choice of fast made me more conscious of the season, and also shed some light on just how hard it is to cut out something from my life as simple as the news. If I wasn't actively seeking out news sites, I still was inundated by friends posting news articles on Facebook. Obviously, I can't tell all my friends to stop posting news out of respect, and there's no way to turn off the Facebook "news" feed. It's very hard to cut out all the news, almost as hard as doing a food fast (maybe harder at times). On occasion, I'd find myself trying to reason whether something posted was news or just general reading material. By the end of the season it became much easier to keep my focus off of that habit of checking the news, and it helped me to become more conscious of what I was consuming.
Fast forward to this year, I've decided to again fast from reading the news. My news sources have changed over the year, but I still have that draw to check on current events too often. Learning from last year, I've decided to also forgo the "news" feeds of Facebook and Twitter. To keep in touch with friends who I can't just call on the phone, or who have a habit of using Facebook over texting/calling, I've discovered Facebook's little known chat client support. Facebook has an XMPP server (Extensible Messaging and Presence Protocol), which will work with any standard XMPP client (I like to use Pidgin). I've signed out of Facebook and Twitter, stashed my news bookmarks away from their normal place, and began the fasting season.
While the main reason to sign out of Facebook and Twitter has been to cut out the endless collection of news postings I read every day, it does add some additional challenges. For one, I can't post statuses to either while signed out. Rather than search for an alternative, I've decided to just forgo that as well--not to fast from it, but to just avoid signing in and prancing around the feeds. By doing that, I've made this fast even more front and center in my mind. For example, I've been dying to post statuses about all the snow I've had to deal with today, shoveling out snow for hours. And, now with six more inches on the ground, I've had to break from writing this to shovel out the tractor to deal with a electrical short in the block heater (icicles were forming on top of the power plug).
In a way, this has made me more focused at home than I normally would be. At work, it can be easy to pass a break reading news, but I don't spent very much time writing tweets because I can't talk about work. At home and on the bus rides, I always have little thoughts I want to post, but I don't want to read the news quite so much. As a result, I've got Lent on my mind day and night.
This leads to the second thing: spiritual disciplines. This is the thing I hadn't really been aware of until half way through last year's season. Rather than simple reflection on the meaning of Christ's sacrifice on the cross, many people take the time to reflect on or focus on an area of their walk with Christ. I'm not sure how everyone else observes Lent, but in a lot of cases I see people fasting from one thing so they can focus on God by doing a spiritual thing instead. I can take a break from something, but if I really want to make this season mean something, then I need to add something as well.
I've decided to add (and am still getting the hang of) prayer to my focus this season. I've added a daily study plan on prayer to my bible application, and I want to work toward improving my prayer ethic for Lent. I've been a little lazy/automated with my prayers in recent months, and not taking hardly any time aside to really include prayer in my routine. I'm hoping by the end of Lent I will have a better grasp on a prayer routine with more depth and meaning.
So that's about what I've had in mind for Lent this year. I think I've stated all that I wanted to on the matter for now. Are you making an effort to observe Lent? Why or why not? Maybe it's a bit of an excuse for something we should be doing all year long, but the public observance does help give some motivation to improve our own spiritual walks while we see others doing the same. What discipline could you use to improve? I chose prayer because it's probably the weakest disciplines I have, yet it's also one of the most important for every believer to practice.
- No News for Lent