An Invitation to a Holy Lent
Each Lent the Church begins her preparation for Holy Week and Easter with these words. We come together and hear the invitation to observing a season marked by particular spiritual disciplines which prepare us for the commemoration of the most important events in the history of the world.
These particular disciplines (self-examination and repentance; prayer, fasting, and self-denial; reading and meditating on God’s holy Word) are not picked at random from the multitude of spiritual exercises available to all of us trying to follow Jesus more closely. Rather, rooted in Christ’s own responses to the Devil’s temptations in the desert (see Matthew 4:1–11), these disciplines strengthen our spiritual lives so that we can better participate in the Kingdom proclaimed by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Using an exercise metaphor: Sometimes marathon runners want to get faster. One way to do that is just keep running shaving a few seconds each week. But doing the same thing over and over will only get the runner so far. Rather, if a runner really wants to increase his or her speed, then they take the marathon off season and in addition to running, the runner does a whole variety of strength training to result in stronger, and ultimately faster, legs for the next season.
In Lent, we are called to keep doing the parts of our relationship with Jesus we do year around (daily prayer, Bible study, Sunday school classes, Growth Groups, and, of course, weekly Sunday worship) just as the runner keeps running in the off season. But, again like the strength training runner in that off season, we are also called to add additional exercises to our spiritual lives. Namely, we’re called to the exercises listed in the invitation above.
As a parish this Lent, we are focusing on these particular disciplines. Building on our study of God’s purpose for our lives with Kevin Dodge’s Lent devotional last year (if you didn’t get the chance to participate last year or want to do it again, there are copies available in the Bookstore!), as well as our Old Testament study this past fall, we are taking this season to build spiritual strength for the calling God has for each of us.
I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
From the Ash Wednesday liturgy found in The Book of Common Prayer, page 265
Ash Wednesday, March 1
Service with Imposition of Ashes
7 am Traditional (Church)
12 noon Traditional (Church)
6 pm Traditional (Church)
6 pm Uptown Contemporary (Ascension Chapel)
About the book
While there are many Lenten books and studies already available in the marketplace, we felt compelled to meet the needs that you specifically expressed to us in the church-wide survey you took less than a year ago. The data from that survey revealed our areas of excellence and our areas of needed growth. Two of the greatest opportunities identified for us to develop were 1) knowledge of the Bible and the authority of scripture and 2) spending time daily with God in solitude.
This daily devotional serves as an excellent way to advance our spiritual formation by specifically addressing these two areas. If you desire a deeper walk with God, this is going to take some work, just like anything else in life. God will meet you if you’ll consistently meet with him in a spirit of humility and repentance.
We are unbelievably blessed with a talented author among us here at Incarnation. Kevin Dodge worked diligently with us to create a stimulating and approachable tool to help foster and deepen our relationship with Jesus Christ. We are forever grateful for his dedication to this church and his commitment to the Great Commission of Jesus Christ to “go out into the world and make disciples.”
Many of you may know Kevin Dodge by some of his other literary works on the spiritual life, including Confessions of a Bishop: A Guide to Augustine’s Confessions and Reading Dante: A Theological Paraphrase of the Inferno. He holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and a ThM with Highest Honors from Dallas Theological Seminary.
The book, titled: An Invitation to a Holy Lent: A Devotional, will be available for purchase in the coming weeks. Look for the books on stands throughout the welcome center toward the end of January. The cost of the book has been offset to make it extremely affordable to all at $9 each. Please plan to purchase a copy for yourself and possibly as a gift for a friend or family member you think would enjoy embarking on this journey as well.
About the cover artist: Juliana Crownover is an award-winning artist of more than 30 years who has also been teaching art for 16. She is a member of the Pastel Society of the Southwest, and the Outdoor Painters Society. For the last four summers, Crownover has been artist in residence at Ghost Ranch in New Mexico.
“I use light and color to bring out beauty in everyday life. In that way I use my art as a reminder of where to find beauty all around us, and to slow down in our daily lives so that we may see it,” says of her work.
Crownover holds BA in Biology, Art, and Environmental Studies from Austin College. Learn more at paintandsimple.com.
This Lenten devotional is designed to help you meet with God, but it’s also designed to be realistic. Each lesson contains a series of texts that should take about fifteen minutes to read. The flow of the texts follows an ancient Lectionary whose roots, in various forms, trace back all the way to the fifth Century. In other words, this devotional tracks how the Church has observed Lent for centuries.
Each day presents a short set of readings from the Bible, usually just a few verses. Accompanying these readings is a brief introduction. After this, comes a set of reflection questions, a comment section to tie things together and some suggested applications. There are six days of lessons for each week since Sunday is always a feast day.
Let these texts be a spur to reflection and to opening yourself up to God. Think of this devotional as the introduction to a conversation you might have with God, with friends, with clergy, with whomever you choose. The applications listed at the end of each lesson are purposely designed to be diverse enough to give you various opportunities to put these lessons into action. If you find an activity you like, then by all means, keep doing it throughout Lent and beyond.
Lent I (Week of Feb 14)
Promise: God is with us.
Purpose: Work for the common good.
Lent II (Week of Feb 21)
Promise: We are God’s family.
Purpose: Live for the Body of Christ.
Lent III (Week of Feb 28)
Promise: God’s people are saved.
Purpose: Rely on Christ.
Lent IV (Week of March 6)
Promise: We are empowered to reconcile.
Purpose: Be peacemakers.
Lent V (Week of March 13)
Promise: We are forgiven.
WEEK 1 - Fasting & Self-Denial
Hungry for God? Fr. Chris Yoder’s perspective on Fasting & Self-Denial
Fasting & Self-Denial
What is the practice of fasting? Fasting is going without food for a period of time. Fasting is distinct from abstinence, which is giving up a particular kind of food (traditionally, meat). Both fasting and abstinence are forms of self-denial.
Self-denial is not masochism. Instead, think of it as exercise for the soul. Just as athletes in training deny themselves certain good things to become better competitors, so we Christians deny ourselves certain lesser goods in order to grow in the love of God, who is the greatest good. Self-denial is going without something good you want. What you give up may be food or drink (as in fasting or abstinence) or it may be spending money on yourself (as in the practice of almsgiving, which is a type of self-denial) or something else. In any case, the practice of self-denial is training to desire God above all else.
Why fast? Most simply, we fast because it is what Christians do. Jesus does not say, “If you fast,” and neither does he say “You must fast”; he simply says, “When you fast” (Matthew 5:16–18). Jesus himself fasted and Christians throughout the ages have followed his example. More deeply, fasting is a form of spiritual exercise; it is a means of learning self-control by disciplining the body like an athlete would (see 1 Corinthians 9:24–27). The point is not to lose weight, but to practice denying ourselves for the sake of Christ. Jesus says, “If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Matthew 16:24). Fasting is training to walk the Way of the Cross.
During the 40 Days
In the Episcopal Church, fasting is obligatory on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. The church teaches that fasting can be practiced in two ways: either by not eating anything at all on the day of the fast, or by eating only one simple meal during the day, along with a very small meal in the morning and evening. The latter is especially appropriate for the forty days of Lent. Young children, the sick, and the elderly are not expected to fast.
The traditional practice is to fast on the weekdays of Lent and Holy Week. Sundays are always Feasts of our Lord, so the fast is relaxed on Sundays. You may also wish to abstain from meat and other types of food and drink (e.g., alcohol) during Lent. Devote the time you would have spent eating to prayer, and give the money you save to the poor.
Fasting and self-denial are not limited to the forty days of Lent. The Book of Common Prayer teaches that all Fridays of the year (because the Lord’s crucifixion took place on a Friday) are days “observed by special acts of discipline and self-denial” (p. 17). The traditional practice is to abstain from meat on Fridays, except during the Christmas and Easter seasons (which are times for celebration). You may find that giving up meat (or some other thing, e.g., social media) on Fridays will help remind you of what our Lord suffered for your sake.
Fasting and prayer are intimately connected. Fasting creates space for prayer and raises our awareness of our need for God. It is finally God and God alone who gives life, who sustains and who nourishes. Fasting is particularly appropriate at times when you are praying about a decision or interceding for others or battling temptation. Christ taught us that some things can only be overcome by prayer and fasting.
Bringing Faith Home
Suggestions for families: Kids can fast too! However, going completely without food is not advisable for little children.
- Talk to your kids about fasting. Explain to them that it is ok to be uncomfortable, and it is ok to be hungry.
- Don’t serve dessert during Lent, but save it for Sundays, and a big celebration at Easter.
- Eat very basic meals, especially on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Meals that are so basic they will leave a memorable impression, like plain rice or soup without meat.
WEEK 2 - Reading & Meditating on God's Word
Reading & Meditating on God’s Holy Word with Fr. Thomas Kincaid & Deacon John Sundara
Reading & Meditating
What is “reading and meditating on God’s holy Word?” It is the practice of reading the Bible prayerfully. It entails a posture of openness to what God may be speaking to you through the biblical text. It is reading the Bible not for information, but formation. Reading not for mastery, but to be mastered. It is to approach the words of Scripture as what God wants to say to you.
To read the Bible prayerfully, savor it like an exquisite delicacy. Or again, treasure it as you would a letter from your closest friend.
There’s an old children’s song that goes: “Read your Bible, pray every day, and you’ll grow, grow, grow.” It’s true. Christians read the Bible prayerfully in order to grow in love of God and neighbor. In other words, Holy Scripture is nourishing. It’s like food for our souls: when we take it in, it helps us grow. As Jesus says, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4). The Bible is also like food in that it requires digestion. We “inwardly digest” it through prayer. We can’t bolt it down and expect it to nourish us; we need to let the Word work on us—and we do this in prayer.
During the 40 Days
Set aside time every day to read the Bible prayerfully. The goal is not to read as much as possible, but to read slowly and deliberately, lingering over words or phrases that stand out to you, asking what the Lord is saying to you. If you don’t know what to read, start with the Gospel Lesson from Sunday; return to it each day during the following week.
One way to pray the Scriptures (either individually or with a group) is to read a passage slowly three times, pausing between each reading and focusing on something different each time: the first time, on a word or phrase that catches your attention; then, on where the passage intersects with your life; and, finally, on what you believe God is inviting you to do or be in light of the passage. Begin with a prayer asking for the grace to hear God’s word, and end with the Lord’s Prayer.
Make a habit of praying the Psalms. The Psalms are an ancient and central part of Christian prayer. The Book of Common Prayer appoints the Psalter to be read either every thirty days or according to the church calendar (See the Daily Office Lectionary, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 934. The Daily Office Lectionary also appoints three lessons from Scripture for each day of the year.)
Memorize passages of Scripture. Committing the words of Scripture to memory is a way of obeying God’s command to “lay up these words of mine in your heart and in your soul” (Deuteronomy 11:18–21). As we memorize the Bible, it shapes our imaginations, our desires, and our prayers.
A prayer for reading the Bible prayerfully:
Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Bringing Faith Home
Suggestions for families:
- Leave a children’s Bible near your child’s bed, and make it a point to read a story out of it two or three nights a week during Lent. Young kids also might enjoy acting out the Bible story.
- Meditation: engage in silent meditation with your child, just two
or three minutes. Repeat the name of Jesus during this time, or think about a Bible story you just read and imagine yourselves as a character in that story. What if it happened to you?
WEEK 3 - Prayer
Deacon Ryan Waller urges us to make prayer the centerpiece of our lives.
“Prayer,” taught St. John of Damascus, “is the raising of one’s mind and heart to God or the requesting of good things from God.” Often, prayer is simply asking God for something, and this is a good thing (see Matthew 7:7–11). More fundamentally, though, prayer is finding God to be everything—and responding accordingly.
Thus, prayer can be with or without words. It can be a spontaneous cry of the heart. It can be a short word or phrase (e.g., “Lord, have mercy”). It can take the form of written words countless others have prayed over long years (e.g., The Book of Common Prayer). Silent contemplation can be prayer, and so can the sign of the cross.
Prayer is the heartbeat of the Christian life. The prayer that is Christian is prayer in union with Jesus Christ. It is standing with Jesus and sharing in his prayer to the Father by the power of the Holy Spirit. Prayer is communion with the Holy Trinity.
Why pray? Because it’s what we were made for. We were created for communion with God, and this is just what prayer is. When we pray, we are most fully ourselves. “With you is the well of life,” prays the psalmist; when we pray, we turn to the One in whom we find our true life.
During the 40 Days
The Lenten season is an especially appropriate time for prayer with other Christians. If it is not already your habit to attend church every Sunday, make a new beginning this Lent. If your schedule permits, come to weekday Morning Prayer & Holy Communion (8 am) and/or Evening Prayer (4:40 pm) in Memorial Chapel (Worship Service Times). In addition, prioritize the liturgies in Holy Week, as these services mark the climax of the Christian year: Maundy Thursday (April 13), Good Friday (April 14), and the Easter Vigil (April 15).
Lent is the time to take your personal prayer life to the next level. Set aside a period of time for prayer on each of the forty days. Choose a length of time that is realistic for you, but which will also stretch you. Aim for consistency.
Consider making a spiritual retreat during Lent, giving one or two days wholly over to prayer. The Lord Jesus often withdrew to quiet places and prayed (see Luke 5:16). Lent is a fitting time to follow our Lord’s example.
“Pray without ceasing,” says St. Paul (1 Thessalonians 5:11). He doesn’t mean we should not do anything but pray; rather, that we are called to turn everything we do and are into a prayer. Growing in prayer is about letting our whole lives say, with Jesus, “Our Father.” A concrete step in this direction is to say a brief prayer before and after everything we do. In this way, we develop the habit of directing our attention toward God throughout the day. Remember, the point of prayer is communion with the living God.
The Book of Common Prayer gives us many ways to develop a life of daily prayer. The central and most traditional way is through the Daily Office, that is, Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. The prayer book also provides short services for Noonday Prayer and Compline (at nighttime), and very short Daily Devotions for Individuals and Families. Each of these services combines readings from Scripture with ancient prayers; think of them as praying the Bible. If you are new to this way of praying, Compline is a good place to begin (BCP pg. 127). The Daily Office is also accessible online or through apps (e.g., the Mission St. Clare app (iOS) and website).
Bringing Faith Home
Suggestions for families:
- Make extra effort to have family dinners during Lent, and begin the meals with prayer. Ask each member of your family to share something they are thankful for from their day.
- Teach your kids to memorize the Lord’s Prayer. Pray for any family or friends that are in a time of need.
WEEK 4 - Self-Examination
Self-examination is not navel-gazing but the examination of conscience. It is the practice of prayerfully and honestly scrutinizing your life—your thoughts, words, and deeds—to uncover the ways in which you have sinned against God—either by doing what is wrong, or by not doing what is right. Self-examination is not an end in itself, but a means of preparing for the confession of sin. To examine your conscience is to make an inventory of your soul. The point is not to feel bad about yourself, but to shine the light of truth in the dark corners of your heart.
“Examine yourselves,” says St. Paul, “Test yourselves” (2 Corinthians 13:5). Self-examination counters the destructive power of self-deception. We are disinclined to acknowledge our wretchedness, to admit we are not well. Through self-examination, we confront those things about ourselves we would rather pretend were not there.
What Socrates said is true: “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Our lives are diminished to the extent to which we are not willing to face the truth about ourselves. But when we submit ourselves to the searching light of truth, then we find freedom and flourish (see John 8:32).
“If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us; but if we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:8–9).
During the 40 Days
You probably submit to an annual physical exam, which involves a degree of vulnerability and discomfort. Think of Lent as the time for your spiritual exam. Set aside an extended period of time (when you can be alone, and with pen and paper to hand) for a thorough review of your life.
Begin by reminding yourself that sin is not so much the breaking of a law, but the refusal to love (see Matthew 22:37–40). Pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit. For example, you may wish to pray: “O God, in your love enlighten my heart, that I may remember in truth all my sins and your unfailing mercy.” Then, review your life and write down the specific sins against God and your neighbor that you can remember. You may find it helpful to use some aid to examination, such as the Ten Commandments or the Capital Sins, to act as a sieve for your memory. Finally, consider scheduling an appointment with a priest to make your confession.
Make self-examination a habit. Consider making a brief review of your life at the end of each day. Here is one ancient method:
- Give thanks to God.
- Ask God to help you see your day truthfully.
- Review your day carefully, recalling specific instances and feelings.
- Ask whether what you thought and said and did drew you closer to God or further away; own up to where you have fallen short.
- Look forward to the day to come, and ask for God to show you what to do and what to avoid. Close with the Lord’s Prayer.
The Church calls us to self-examination in preparation for receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion. Take heed of the Exhortation found in the Book of Common Prayer (p. 316). Consider setting aside time for self-examination on Saturdays or Sunday mornings before receiving Holy Communion.
Bringing Faith Home
Suggestions for families:
- Print out a list of the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1–17) and talk about them with your children. What do they mean for us today?
- Give modern-day examples of breaking the Commandments, and
how to avoid it.
WEEK 5 - Repentance
Repentance is a change of mind, the reformation of one’s whole life. To repent is to turn around, to turn away from oneself and toward God.
Baptism marks the decisive act of repentance in the life of a Christian. The early church dramatized the movement of repentance by having baptismal candidates stand facing west to renounce sin, and turn around to face east and embrace Christ Jesus. But repentance isn’t just a onetime thing; it is a life-long process of ever-deepening transformation, a continual returning to God.
Why repent? Because the story of the prodigal son is our story (Luke 15:11-32). Like the prodigal son, we’ve turned our backs on our home and gone off on our own, only to find ourselves in a far country wasting away to nothing. When the prodigal son came to his senses he got up and returned to his father—only to find his father running to embrace him. We find the same when we repent. Sin is our self-imposed exile; repentance is our return home.
During the 40 Days
If there is one word that describes the purpose of Lent it is “repentance.” The point of all the Lenten disciplines is to call us to turn ourselves—with our whole heart, without reservation—to the Lord our God. Let God change your heart this Lent.
Making your confession is a concrete way to practice repentance. It is the appropriate response to self-examination. The Book of Common Prayer encourages sacramental confession, “that you may receive the benefit of absolution, and spiritual counsel and advice; to the removal of scruple and doubt, the assurance of pardon, and the strengthening of your faith.” Priests are available to hear your confession by appointment at any time.
Make repentance a habit of your heart. Ask the Lord to transform your heart, to drive far from you all wrong desires and incline your heart to love and obey him.
Invite a Christian friend (or friends) to hold you to account as a disciple of Christ Jesus and to call you to repentance when necessary. The mutual accountability of fellow Christians “speaking the truth in love” to one another, calling one another into deepening communion with the Lord, is at the heart of the life of the Church (see Ephesians 4:15–16).
Cultivate repentance by contemplating God’s love for you. Think of what the Lord Jesus suffered and did for you. You may find it helpful to pray before a crucifix or an icon of the Crucifixion. Look at Christ crucified, stretching out his arms of love, and let him welcome you home.
Bringing Faith Home
Suggestions for families: Think about specific ways you and your children may have broken one of the 10 Commandments today.
- Ask God’s forgiveness in simple language. “Dear Jesus, please forgive me of my sins.”
- Model self-forgiveness. Point out how naturally self-examination, the topic from last week, leads to repentance, the topic for this week.