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A True Lenten Discipline:
Walking With Christ

by The Rev. Margaret Gunness
What are you giving up for Lent this year? What is your Lenten discipline?

These are common questions in the season of Lent. For years I used to try to think of something that would require me to endure some significant (I could even say faithful) deprivation, but which would also have other desired benefits as well, such as giving up sweets and snacks and thus losing weight, or working out at the gym three days a week but also seeing my boyfriend there. In retrospect, it seems that each of these was more of an indulgence than a pious deprivation.

So let's ask the question again. What is your Lenten discipline this year, your Lenten discipline? The word is so similar to the word disciple. They have a similar derivation, and each of them implies a sense of intention and an obedience in following a worthy purpose or person. So perhaps this year during Lent, rather than trying to keep the rules of a particular discipline, we would do better if we try instead to become a disciple of Christ; rather than trying to follow a set of rules, we can pursue the blessing of a relationship. We can become disciples ourselves, students in dialogue with our teacher as we walk along together towards Easter, that great day of Resurrection.

I suppose there'd be plenty for us to talk about as we walk through this season together – about the people we know, the people we love, those who have hurt us and those whom we have hurt. We could talk about peace and war, about hope and fear, about giving and receiving, about sin and redemption, about spring coming like the keeping of an unforgotten promise to make all things new.

Then some of the time we would just go along in the intimacy of silence, where no words are needed for understanding. Together we'd feel the warmth of the sun on our faces and the breeze in our hair. We'd listen together to the sounds and to the silences. We'd hear the harmony of our hearts beating together, drawing us together as one.

Then, I imagine that we, like those first disciples, would also inevitably recall some of the things that we're ashamed of, that cause us sorrow to remember – times when we've hurt someone, or scarred some of the natural beauty around us, or ignored a need that we could have filled but didn't. So our words of regret come tumbling out, because we need to talk with our companion about these things as well.

A friend of mine once told me of just such a talk. He said that there were things he had done in his life that he regretted profoundly and that to remember them caused him deep and piercing sorrow. So, he said, he went to a priest who helped him prepare for the sacrament of confession. “Spend some time alone,” the priest had told him, “and think of all the things you have done that still cause you such deep remorse. Then write them down so you can see them for what they are. And when you've done that, come back to me.”

So my friend did this. And when the day came, he went back to see the priest. The two prayed together first, and then my friend talked for a long time of the things he had written. When he had finished, he prayed the prayer of confession from the Prayer Book. The priest discussed with him the various things he had spoken of, and then said the strong and comforting words of forgiveness. When my friend got up to go, the priest asked for the paper where the things he had confessed were written. Confused and reluctant, my friend gave him the list. “And then,” he said, “the priest tore that list up, threw the pieces away, and turned to me and said, “Go your way. Your sins are forgiven.”

This, I believe, is how Lent is meant to unfold. It's not so much a time of deprivation as it is a time of deepening, not a time of sorrow only but a time of gratitude as well, not a time of solitude only but a time of companionship also, not a time for discipline alone, but a time to become a disciple and to walk along with Christ, together in deep conversation.

Copyright ©2004 The Rev. Margaret Gunness


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