Lutherans and the spirituality of Lent

Kristin Berkey Abbott
03/07/2013

Lutherans and the spirituality of Lent

A Taize service with Martin Marty at the Lutheran Center Chapel in Chicago.

Often as August winds its way into September, I find myself missing the season of Lent. During that long, green season, I want some of the drama of Lent, some of the excitement of keeping to a discipline, some of the extra fellowship opportunities that congregations often offer during Lent.

So why is it that as we approach the midpoint of Lent, most years I wish for the cleared calendars of summer or for the candles of Advent? Why can't I be a Zen Lutheran, fully present in whatever moment I find myself, not yearning for the past, not wishing that the future would hurry up to get here?

Part of the answer may come with the Lenten disciplines I always adopt. I don't try to do something that would be impossible: giving up some special food or drink, giving up gossip, giving up the Internet, giving up ...well, giving up anything, in fact.

I've always recommended that we add to our Lent, instead of giving up. Lent is a great season for adding a spiritual practice or two to our days. So, instead of giving up wine for Lent, I add more devotional readings. Instead of Internet fasting (or any fasting), I add more writing. This year I'm writing a poem a day.

At first, it always goes so well. This year, I found myself saying, "This is so easy. I wouldn't call this poetry writing a discipline at all." Those of you who have adopted a discipline, Lenten or otherwise, probably recognize the early, intoxicated days, when we look at the world with wonder and when we regard our accomplishments with amazement.

Then, always, life events interfere. I find myself grumbling. I wonder why I adopted a daily discipline, not a weekly one. I think back to other times in my life when my discipline has seemed easier. I think about the superstars of whatever discipline I've adopted, and I wonder why I can't do the same.

I once had a wise yoga teacher who said, "Stop comparing yourself to others. It won't help you hold the pose any better."

As I move through my years, I realize that her suggestion holds true for just about every area of my life. It does no good to think about what John Keats achieved by his early 20s and what I didn't achieve -- unless it spurs me to try to be a better poet here and now.

After all, Keats had tuberculosis, and he woke up every day coughing up a bit of his lungs, a vivid reminder that he wouldn't have forever on this earth. Lent, too, reminds us that we don't really have much time. We begin by remembering that we are dust and disintegrating back into dust all too soon. We end our Lenten journeys headed to a tomb.

Easter promises that death will not have the final answer. But Lent reminds us that life is short, and redemption requests so much of us. How to cope? Our Lenten disciplines and the spirituality of the season show us the way.

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Kristin Berkey-Abbott is a lifelong Lutheran, a college teacher and department head. She has taught a variety of English and creative-writing classes for the last 20 years.

You might also want to read:

Our spiritual pilgrimage
A Lenten commitment to give up the fear of failure
Welcome to Lent

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