Rapt for Lent
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday tomorrow, and over the last week I have been overhearing the customary discussions about who is giving up what for the period of pre-Easter preparation. I have given up things for Lent in the past and have occasionally even found the process to have the effect of sharpening my focus and preparing me for Easter. But more often than not, it has degenerated into somewhat of a duty that, while undertaken with the best of intentions, fizzled out well before Good Friday arrived.
As I have been thinking about Lent this year, I have returned to a book I read a few months ago by Winifred Gallagher called Rapt and looks at attention and how (or if) we use it. Gallagher’s thesis—her “grand unified theory”— is as simple as it is sweeping:
Your life—who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love—is the sum of what you focus on.
Obviously, “who you are, what you think, feel, and do, what you love” is a pretty big part of Christian discipleship. Yet it’s remarkable how often I allow my attention to be dominated merely by whatever happens to be in front of me. The next task, the next demand, the next person, the next book/magazine article/website, the next entertaining diversion, the next… whatever. Life can become, at least for me, a fairly reactive as opposed to a proactive affair. Days can go by where it seems like all I am doing is just riding the wave of people, events, tasks, and obligations that drift into my life.
So if my life—or at least my experience of my life—is the sum of what I focus on… well, what? According to Gallagher’s thesis, my experience of life will often be somewhat disjointed, reactive, and lacking focus. And it is. And this is not ideal, either from the perspective of general well-being or for Christian discipleship which is about, among other things, choosing to follow the way of Jesus and to do so with focused commitment.
Love is not a reactive thing; it can wither in conditions like these.
What does any of this have to do with Lent? Well, a lot, I think, because Lent is all about focus and paying proper attention. But I have no grand plans to give something up this year. In fact, rather than a subtraction from my life I am planning on an overdue addition: focus. I am going to try, every day, to simply spend some time focusing on the life of Jesus and his cross. I am going to read the gospels; I am going to follow a Lenten devotional guide; I am going to pray.
I am going to focus on Jesus and pay attention to how what I think, feel, do, and love changes in the process.
Quite likely all of this sounds fairly unremarkable and hardly worthy of the number of words I have devoted to it. Indeed, it could even seem like an ordinary and expected part of a life of faith. And perhaps that’s all it is. But however ordinary this “discovery” might look from the outside, the reminder that Jesus is worth paying attention to is a significant and necessary one for me. I am looking forward to the journey.
For more reflections on Lent from around the CC Blogs Network, see here.