04 Mar Turning off the world
Brothers and Sisters,
Imagine if the world stopped for us during Lent. How much easier would it be for us to attend services, pray more and focus on our spiritual growth if all of our other obligations went away. Work keeping you busy? You get 40 days off. School work and activities pulling you and your family 12 different directions? It’s all canceled for 40 days (no homework either). It’s hard to imagine. I can imagine it a little because I was fortunate enough to experience it, at least for one week a year. When I was in seminary, the first week of Lent was a time for prayer, and prayer alone. The normal, day to day life of the Seminary literally stopped. No classes, no exams to study for, no papers to work on. All that was left was to engage in the full cycle of Lenten services. It was tiring for sure. Being at a seminary attached to a monastery meant, without our other obligations, we were to participate daily in the full monastic cycle of services. That meant we were in Church by 5:30 AM until 11:30 AM (with one, 45 minute break). After lunch, we had some free time before we were back at 4 until approximately 6:30 PM. It wasn’t long after dinner that you couldn’t help but get to bed and sleep. So, our days were almost exclusively devoted to prayer. It was quite an experience. I think, upon graduating and being ordained, that I have tried to sort of “chase” that experience each year, trying to replicate it when I know I can’t. I can’t count on the world to shut down for me, so it’s up to me to shut down the world as best as I can. That’s the challenge for all of us. We need to identify (and hopefully we’ve done so before Lent began), the things that we CAN shut down. We can’t abandon our jobs or our school obligations, so we have to search for the things we can “turn off.” What distracts us? What keeps us from giving more time to prayer, reading and reflecting on the Scriptures, or dedicating some time to spiritual reading? Is it the TV? We can control that. Is it the internet? We can control that. It can seem daunting to have a full day of work or school and then attend whatever evening service is being offered, but think of the benefit it provides us. Especially this first week, when we have the opportunity to pray the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete. This beautiful service, broken down into four parts over the first four evenings of the Fast, truly sets the tone for the entire Lenten season. It allows us to reflect on our sins, and the call to repentance. It reminds us of the need for our entire mind, body and soul to be engaged in our prayer life, through the many opportunities to bow and prostrate before the Lord. Perhaps we cannot attend all four evenings, but I encourage all of our parish family to attend at least one night, if not more. It’s a great first step to getting us into the mindset of turning off the world a little.