The joy of Lent?
The joy of Christmas, yes, the joy of Easter, sure, but the joy of Lent? Sounds like one of those recent innovations that make traditionalists squirm.
The joy of Lent was considered original and innovative—1500 years ago— when Benedict of Nursia first proposed it.
Thus everyone of his own will may offer God “with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6) something above the measure required of him. From his body, that is he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting; and with the joy of spiritual desire he may look forward to holy Easter.Order of Benedict of Nursia, Chapter 49
There it is, joy, two times—and no mention of the gloom and doom. Benedict points to additional efforts: increased giving and additional prayer, and fasting of some form in Lent, but the purpose is increasing joy, not misery. Benedict knew that the human concerns of living could easily overwhelm us—and he ordered monastery life to counter this. The hours devoted to prayer helped his brothers maintain their spiritual focus and avoid getting swallowed up by their work. Living in the balance of prayer and work made each brother aware of their own limitations, and consequently thankful for God’s grace in their own life.
So, the joy of Lent, according to Benedict, came from an additional focus on prayer-–attention to being in God’s presence in prayer spills over into daily living. Noticing where life was out of balance, and refraining from those activities is the heart of the Lenten discipline of fasting. Increased giving to others points toward, and actively expresses, compassion. The traditional disciplines of Lent, prayer, fasting and almsgiving, are keys not only to the joy of Lent, but to the joy of life lived in balance with a compassionate heart continually aware of the presence of God in all things.
I invite you to a holy, and yes, joyful Lent. Read on to learn more about how All Saints’ will support you in growing during Lent.
-The Reverend Nancy L. J. Cox, Rector