Lent: A Time for Emptying

Lent: A Time for Emptying

At Morning Praise on Ash Wednesday, Prioress Stephanie Schmidt blessed ashes reminding us that, "we are called to a deeper journey with God, ourselves, our community and all people during this sacred time. May our hearts become wider, our roots deeper, as we journey to life-giving actions that will include and benefit all."

This reading from the Rule of Benedict, Chapter 49, "The Observance of Lent," followed by Joan Chittister's commentary from Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century, was a part of morning prayer.

The life of a monastic ought to be a continuous Lent. Since few, however, have the strength for this, we urge the entire community during these days of Lent to keep its manner of life most pure and to wash away in this holy season the negligences of other times. This we can do in a fitting manner by refusing to indulge evil habits and by devoting ourselves to prayer with tears, to reading, to compunction of heart and self-denial. During these days, therefore, we will add to the usual measure of our service something by way of private prayer and abstinence from food or drink, so that each of us will have something above the assigned measure to offer God of our own will with the joy of the Holy Spirit (1 Thes 1:6). In other words, let each one deny themselves some food, drink, sleep, needless talking and idle jesting, and look forward to holy Easter with joy and spiritual longing.

"Once upon a time," an ancient story tells, "the master had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen. But instead of listening, the visitor kept talking about his own concerns and giving his own thoughts.

"After a while, the master served tea. He poured tea into his visitor's cup until it was full and then he kept on pouring.

"Finally the visitor could not bear it any longer. 'Don't you see that my cup is full?' he said. 'It's not possible to get anymore in.'

"'Just so,' the master said, stopping at last. 'And like this cup, you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give you Zen unless you first empty your cup?'"

A monastic Lent is the process of emptying our cups. Lent is the time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. Lent is about taking stock of time, even religious time. Lent is about exercising the control that enables us to say no to ourselves so that when life turns hard of its own accord we have the spiritual stamina to say yes to its twists and turns with faith and with hope. Most interesting of all, perhaps, is the fact that Benedict wants us to do something beyond the normal requirement of our lives "of our own will." Not forced, not prescribed for us by someone else. Not required by the system, but taken upon ourselves because we want to be open to the God of darkness as well as to the God of light.