Lindsey Weishar: Taking up the challenge of living Lent with body and spirit
My Vocation is Love l Lindsey Weishar
Perhaps one of the greatest personal challenges for living out Lent is remembering that I am both body and spirit. That might seem a bit obvious — every person is both body and soul. However, so many times in history, the temptation has been to in some way divorce body and soul.
The Manicheans, who lived during St. Augustine’s day, believed that the soul and the spiritual realm were good and the body and material world were bad. Today, there is sometimes an inordinate focus on the body over the soul, but here too there is a sense that the body is somehow problematic – always lagging a bit behind what society deems to be physical “perfection.”
This is perhaps why Lent typically seems quite daunting for me. I’m thinking in terms of all the potential for bodily failure — for example, the struggle to fast — and instead opt to live a Lent on a cerebral, abstract level. I have a tendency to form rather vague Lenten observances that are slowly chipped away as Lent goes on. For example, giving up sweets might become giving up chocolate, and before I know it, the practice all but falls away entirely. The vagueness of my Lenten observances makes it somewhat easier to carry them out, but also leaves me feeling disconnected from the Lord.
“A TEMPLE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”
As if in answer to this tendency to disconnect body and soul, I was struck by the second reading the Sunday before Lent:
Do you not know that you are the temple of God,
and that the Spirit of God dwells in you?
If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person;
for the temple of God, which you are, is holy.
(1 Corinthians 3:16-17)
When I think about the Jewish temple of Jesus’ day, my thoughts go immediately to the Holy of Holies, that space where only the high priest could commune with God on behalf of the people. If I am a temple of the Holy Spirit, then this Holy of Holies exists in me. This means that paying reverence to God’s life in me is one I must honor with reverence toward both my body and my soul.
This honoring is an invitation to shift how I look at Lent, at fasting and penance. It is a call to see Lent’s true purpose — drawing closer to Christ. The acts of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving I take on are to be ordered toward this closeness.
MAKING LENTEN PRACTICES TANGIBLE
This closeness can be cultivated in the simplest of ways. I was recently struck by the tangibility of the Lenten practices that a friend has created with her Montessori students. For prayer, they are learning to journal a few personal thoughts about a short Scripture passage; for fasting and almsgiving, they are giving up creating crafts for themselves during their craft time, and have decided to create crafts for others, like those in a nursing home.
Hearing my friend’s example has been motivating me to make my Lenten practices tangible, as opposed to vague ideas that exist mostly in my head. Being bodies as well as souls, we need tangibility. Our sacraments demonstrate this — we need to receive Jesus in the form of bread, to taste him. Oil, water, candles — all call our senses into prayer and help us draw close to the Lord.
So, one tangible way I’m trying to enter into prayer this Lent is by adding the Liturgy of the Hours to my day. (See prayer suggestions below.) This traditional way of praying with the Psalms has touched me in this season, and has helped me anchor the beginning and end of my day (I’m praying Morning and Night prayer) in a specific prayer to God.
This form of prayer is teaching me that relationship with God involves all of me — both my body and my spirit. In holding a book, in praying aloud, in making the sign of the cross, in bowing my head at the beginning of each Glory Be, I’m reminding myself of the fact that I am a temple. It is in the space of my body — not just my mind and heart and soul — that I can reverence God.
LINDSEY WEISHAR is a poet, freelance writer, and native of Champaign who has a master of fine arts in creative writing from the University of Missouri-Kansas City. She is executive assistant to the president at Donnelly College in Kansas City, Kansas. Write to her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are a few suggestions for praying with the Liturgy of the Hours or the Psalms:
For those interested in praying Liturgy of the Hours: Check out the Hallow app, where you can pray Night Prayer — no breviary necessary. “Magnificat” also offers a shorter version of Liturgy of the Hours. For those looking for a physical resource, you can find a breviary or “Christian Prayer” and “Shorter Christian Prayer” (abbreviated versions of the breviary) at your local Catholic bookstore.
For those interested in other forms of prayer based in the Psalms: Consider opening your Bible and praying with the Psalms this Lent. The images and emotions contained in these prayers are vivid and relatable. Consider memorizing certain Psalms or parts of Psalms to carry with you throughout the day. For those who enjoy praying with music, check out Father Charles Klamut’s latest album, “Psalms.”