Celebrating Mercy: Reforming Lenten Practices

I argued in my last post here, that Lent is about God’s mercy for human misery. The season leading up to Easter is not, or at least not centrally, about human miserableness or even ways of devising humans solutions to that misery. It is about what God has done in Christ to unite us to himself so that we, in our spiritual misery and poverty, might become new individuals and a new people. Lent is centrally about participation in Christ and only secondarily about imitation of Christ.

What does this mean practically for the way that we mark the Lenten season?

Lenten disciplines, at their best, draw us back to the basics. Not to our vague sense of miseria but to the specific miserere, the mercy of God, which fully and radically⁠—to the roots⁠—understands and deals with our miserable condition. Lent is about God’s pity for our pitiable condition. Lenten disciplines should remind us of this reality.

In the spirit of placing God, and not us, at the centre of Lent, allow me to suggest very briefly a few practices that we might recover over the Lenten period.

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Quietness, not Quietism: The Prayer Book on Finding Rest in God

The Book of Common Prayer on at least three occasions makes reference to quietness in its collective prayers, or collects:

“…that we may pass our time in rest and quietness…” (Second Collect, Evening Prayer)

“grant…that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness…” (Trinity 5)

“grant…to thy faithful people…that…they may serve thee with a quiet mind” (Trinity 21)

Quietness is not the same as quietism, however. Quietism broadly speaking refers to a variety of religious and political philosophies characterised by permanent withdrawal from the world. Worldly events mean less, and perhaps are even meaningless, as one seeks truth in spiritual events and internal experiences. 

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