I have a bunch of gangly hydrangea bushes along the fence in my back yard and a few camellia bushes that have gotten very leggy. They need to be pruned back now so they’re ready for the burst of growth coming this spring.
If I don’t do the pruning, the bushes just get more unmanageable after their spring growth. They get top heavy and fall over. The flowers are half the size they should be and look kind of sickly. If I don’t prune now, the plants will be more susceptible to disease.
It’s an over-simplification, but it’s no less true: The season of Lent is to our spiritual lives as pruning is to the life-cycle of a plant. It is a prescription for future well-being.
Lent is a season for renewing and deepening the practices of prayer, fasting (or self-denial), and alms-giving that Christians have found to be fertile ground for spiritual growth since the time Jesus walked among us.
If you want to have a beautiful yard with healthy plants and wildlife, you’d take the advice of a master gardener if it was offered to you, wouldn’t you? How do you think your yard would fare if you ignored it for a month? A summer? A year?
The spiritual traditions of the Church were learned from the master gardener of the Spirit: Jesus himself. Contemplate God’s reflection in nature as you take a hike along the Neuse River or Falls Lake. Dwell a little while in genuine conversation and prayer with others around a story from the gospel or a work of religious art. Experiment with a day of fasting and notice how dependent you are on this daily bread. Give up fancy Starbucks drinks for six weeks and give the money to provide meals for our neighbors who are out of work right now….
When we engage in positive, active spiritual practices like these (and others), they function like pruning shears. They allow the Spirit to cut through our apathy, our cynicism, our gluttony, and our self-centeredness. They clear away the brambles and allow the ground of our being to soak in the Light of God’s love, wisdom, generosity, and ability; and as we grow, our hearts and minds and our will are better trained toward the Light.
If you don’t know where to begin with spiritual practices for Lent, or if you know of practices you want to commend to others, join me in a “breakout room” on Zoom after worship this Sunday, February 14th for an informal “brainstorming” session on how to keep a Holy Lent.
If you feel an inner voice saying “pay better attention” to your life, and to the stirrings of the Spirit in the world, then it may be time to gather a few tools together and dig in.
Spring is on its way.
This comes with Love.