Right before Lent began this year, I attended a workshop led by Carl McColman billed as Contemplative Prayer and the Joyful Season of Lent. I was curious how he was going to make Lent seem joyful. My previous limited experience with Lent was focused on giving up something as penance and the need to be sorry for being so sinful in my humanness that Jesus had to die for me to be worthy of God’s love. But what Carl shared that day and the following week’s Ash Wednesday sermon have made me think about Lent differently.
The word Lent comes from the Old English word “lencten,” meaning springtime. Even in Dutch and German, the word originally meant spring. Most of us know that many church events have been timed with pre-Christian beliefs, so I wasn’t terribly surprised that Lent was related to the Spring Equinox. Carl discussed Lent as a time of reflecting on the “dance between dark yielding into light” and what that looks like in our inner life.
The burning of last year’s palm branches to use on Ash Wednesday resonates with what I’ve been reading in Thomas Merton’s book, New Seeds of Contemplation. He describes contemplation as “burning to ashes of old worn-out words, cliches, slogans, rationalizations.” He goes on to say that contemplation is like “purification of the sanctuary” or removing everything from our internal alter until nothing is left to “occupy the place that God has commanded to be left empty: the center, the existential altar which simply “is.”” 
I’m beginning to see the season of Lent as a type of spring cleaning of the soul as we sweep out what keeps us separated from God’s love and mercy and allow the light of Spirit to shine more fully through us. I’m picturing it similar to the spring cleaning my mother did when I was a child. The heavy curtains and blankets were cleaned and put away. Windows were cleaned, and sheer chris cross curtains were hung. Baseboards, cupboards, and closets were cleaned from top to bottom. Every room of the house felt light and airy, fresh.
My Lenten Spring Cleaning
I’ve been reflecting on the Spring cleaning I must do for Lent. So far, I’ve been tweaking my spiritual practices around two issues. I need to clean up my thinking about how God interacts with the world, specifically with humankind, and what is God’s will for us. In addition, I need a new understanding of God’s purpose for sending Jesus, the son part of the Trinity, to be born and live as a human and how that impacts what I believe about my human body.
I’ve been reading and meditating with the writing of Thomas Merton and Diana Butler Bass, which is helping to ground me in the understanding that God is the “spiritual thread between space and time; intra, within space and in time; and infra, that which holds space and time.”  Because of this, I can have internal peace and seek to join God’s creative work in the world, even as the circumstances around me constantly change. God’s will becomes less of a puzzle of reading God’s mind before making a decision and more of God inviting me to choose truth, justice, mercy, and love in every situation. 
I’m learning to rest in the understanding that God lives in me. God’s Spirit was breathed into my body, connecting me with God’s good creation. Lent is challenging me to thank my body for faithfully housing my mind and spirit. I’m using gentle and restorative yoga to tune my attention to specific parts of the body and using particular sets of muscles to hold a pose. Feeling the body relax and open more deeply in response is intriguing. I’m also considering what my body has to say and how it responds to the world around me. Asking myself where an emotion is felt in my body and trying to sit with that feeling for a moment allows my mind space to explore what action, if any, is required. I’ve been surprised at how many emotions need no response at all. Just recognizing them is sufficient for them to float through.
I’m growing into a new understanding of the connection between God, self, the people around me, and all creation which Hillary McBride describes so beautifully:
“If God is in all of it, that means there is nowhere we can look where God is not. Everything is sacred. Everyone, everywhere, is the dwelling place. You are the temple.” .
I am the temple. You are the temple. Lent is offering a time of Spring cleaning in the temple. God is with us, for us, and wants us to come clean. To let God’s light shine into the world more strongly as the sun warms the earth longer and longer each day.
Spend some time during this season meditating on Psalm 32 (below), one of the readings from the Ash Wednesday service this year. Consider what type of spring-cleaning God is calling you to do during Lent as we move toward the Easter celebration of God’s love.
 Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation, Kindle (New York: New Directions Books, 1961), 14.
 Diana Butler Bass, Grounded Finding God in the World (New York, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 2015), 25.
 Merton, 20.
 Hillary McBride Ph.D., The Wisdom of Your Body, Kindle (Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos Press, 2021),.218.
Photo by Jess Zoerb on Unsplash