I am not, nor have I ever been, your typical Christian. Most wouldn’t even call me Christian, though I would say my spiritual reality is very catholic (small “c” intentional) and I do have my own special relationship with Christ.
I am in no way claiming to be your spiritual adviser in these things. As a Mystic, you most likely draw from many faiths as I do, finding merit in each. Religion is a veil gracing the heart of what prayer and spiritual practice offer. (You say thief, I say liberator!)
As a Mystic you are also your own Priest, and therefore vested with the power to administer your own sacramentals. (I say Mystic, you say heretic!)
As with any spiritual under taking, intention is everything. So in choosing the way you want to observe Lent, remember that it’s not the destination that matters, but the journey. In other words, it’s not about “making it to Easter”, it’s about learning from the experience.
1. Basics of Lent: Lent is the 40-day period between Ash Wednesday (in this case, March 9) and Holy Thursday. Holy Thursday is the end of Lent, and the beginning of the three holy days of Easter.
2. Three Pillars: There are three pillars of Lent in traditional Catholicism. The pillars are fasting, prayer, and alms-giving. The basic premise of these spiritual undertakings
a. Fasting isn’t really about not eating, it’s about what you learn from not eating, or how you allow not eating to alter your perception. It can also be about allowing yourself temporary liberation from the cycle of eat-or-be-eaten, getting really high on just your breath, or allowing yourself the space to allow for worship to become a higher order of priority than bodily needs.
Spiritual fasting is a varied experience. People do it for all kinds of reasons, and get all kinds of results. I recommend that as you fast, you noticing your hunger. Experience your hunger as the hunger of that Rumi had for conversation with Shamz. That Teresa of Avila had for Christ.
b. Prayer is an adjunct to spiritual fasting that makes the whole more than the sum of its parts. When the energy of hunger is turned to a fevered devotion, prayer becomes a love song to God.
c. Alms-giving is a way to make the concept of sacrifice foundational and interactive. What are you willing to give up in order to benefit the lives of those around you? In your chosen hunger are you willing to feed with your food those who don’t choose hunger? Are you willing to offer your time, energy and intention to putting the words “love your neighbor” into action?
3. How-To, for the Mystic:
a. Ash Wednesday: “Remember, O man, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” —Genesis 3:19.
Ash Wednesday is the day when you see Catholics walking around with ash crosses on their foreheads. You, as your own Priest, will want to prepare a mixture of ash and water or oil. The ash can be from a piece of paper with a “sin” you’d like to eradicate written on it.
Once cool take the ash, make the paste, and paint a cross on your forehead with the ash, recognizing your willingness to bow before the Will of the power greater than yourself.
b. Build Your Lent: How much do you want to fast? What do you want to abstain from? What are you willing to tithe or offer up?Will you fast with water only? Bread and water? One single meal? Any of these options, or even less stringent undertakings such as eating lightly, forgoing meat, or forgoing other foods you enjoy. Or even foods you just eat habitually.
How do you want to enact the teachings of Christ?
This is not about the sacrifice that Christ made, but about the sacrifices you are willing to make in order to become more Christ-like. What actions can you surrender, and what actions can you commit to that will allow the light of Christ to flourish within you?
c. Holy Thursday, aka Thursday of Mysteries. Now it’s about Christ. This is a commemoration of the Last Supper.
After the last super was that night under the olive trees in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” Reflect upon the Sacrifice that Christ was facing. What cup of poison are you shying away from? Will you take the cup, or will you flee?
Spend this night in reflection of what’s being asked of you by God.
d. Holy Friday is a commemoration of the crucifixion of Christ. Traditionally this is a day of fasting and mourning. If you really want to go for it you could spend Friday dressed in sack-cloth and covered in ashes, or taking a more direct and experiential connection with the Passion of the Christ, spend a in a cave wrapped in nothing but a shroud.
e. The Easter Vigil begins Saturday evening. You may take Saturday as another fasting day, clearing the ash and dust from your soul, until evening which is the officially the beginning of Holy Sunday, or…
f. Resurrection Day! You’ve made it! Don’t you feel great? What have you been reborn to, aside from the love of Christ? Or, in addition to it? Eat, drink, and be merry, bathed in the Light of Love and Rebirth!
I hope you have enjoyed your journey through this Mystic’s guide to Lent. May it provide good food – and fast – for thought. Amen.