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Live Blogging Lent; Lenten Discipline; Lenten Fasting; Fasting in Lent

Live Blogging Lent

by Rev. Dr. Mark D. Roberts

Copyright © 2010 by Mark D. Roberts

Note: You may download this resource at no cost, for personal use or for use in a Christian ministry, as long as you are not publishing it for sale. All I ask is that you give credit where credit is due. For all other uses, please contact me at Thank you.

Live Blogging Lent: Introduction

Part 1 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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I expect that most of my readers are familiar with live blogging. It is, as one would expect from the name, a version of blogging, or putting up one’s “log” on the “web.” Live blogging involves putting up posts in the midst of some event, usually an event of significance. So, for example, the Wall Street Journal “live blogged” the opening ceremonies of the 2010 Winter Olympics, publishing minute-by-minute accounts of and observations about what was happening in Vancouver. There you find blog posts such as:

With 10 minutes to go, the crowd is getting lively. Camera flashes are going off across the stadium like twinkling stars.

Finally, we begin.

Enter the bureaucrats: IOC President Jacques Rogge and Canadian functionaries.

So far, the Australians get the biggest cheers. They have also purchased the majority of the beer here tonight.

The Georgian members are subdued, sad looking. No wonder.

Liechtenstein averages three Olympic athletes per square foot.

Roof blows off with the Canadian team's entry. Crowd awakes from its torpor. It's showtime.

Live blogging allows readers to feel as if they are present in an event. It allows for more spontaneity, humor, and authenticity than you’d find in an official television broadcast or newspaper story.

Beginning today, I want to live blog Lent. I want to offer some observations on Lent as I go through it. My hope is that these reflections might be of encouragement to you in your Lenten experience, or in your relationship with God in general.

There is a certain risk in doing what I propose to do here. Actually, there are several risks. Let me mention two of them.

The first risk that comes to mind is that which is well known to pastors. It’s the risk of diluting the authenticity of an experience of God by talking about it too much or too often. Preachers sometimes seem to turn all of life into a source of sermon illustrations. You wonder if their spiritual experiences are genuine, or are mostly meant to supply pulpit principles. I know what it’s like to have an unusually powerful experience of God and to think it the middle of it, “This will preach.” Somehow, that thought, however true it might be, diminishes the experience, turning my heart away from God and to my work.

Aware of the risk that live blogging Lent might inhibit my spiritual growth in Lent, I will not give hourly or daily reports of my experiences. Most of what happens with me in this season will be kept where it belongs, in the privacy of my relationship with God and those who are my closest partners in faith.

The second risk associated with live blogging Lent is the emptiness that comes from boasting. Let’s suppose, for example, that I choose to give up something for Lent, something that is costly to me. If I blog about this, I run the risk of bragging about my spiritual prowess. Such pretentiousness is obviously inconsistent with the spirit of Lent, not to mention Christian humility.

But even if I don’t boast about my Lenten disciplines, I still run the risk of disobeying Jesus’ specific teaching on fasting (and, by implication, other disciplines). In the Sermon on the Mount he said,

“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.” (Matt 6:16-18)

So by speaking openly of my Lenten experiences, I run the risk of limiting their power to fulfill their purpose, which is helping me grow in relationship with God and preparing me for Easter.

Why, then, you might wonder, am I live blogging Lent? I’m doing it in the hope that I can be helpful to others. Speaking openly of my experiences, my struggles, my hopes, my fears might allow you to see yourself more clearly and truly.

This sort of authentic communication has a powerful precedent both in Scripture and tradition. It’s hard to imagine more honest sharing of spiritual experience than what we find throughout the Psalms. In the New Testament we glimpse the realities of faith in, for example, the story of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-42) or Paul’s open confession of his spiritual challenges (2 Cor 1). Some of the most powerful Christian literature is the result of an author’s opening of his or her life of faith (and doubt). Augustine’s Confessions is the prime example.

In closing, I want to mention one further danger in live blogging Lent . . . making it about me. Ugh! If I spend my time in Lent thinking mostly about myself rather than God, then I’ll miss the point. We Christians, especially those of us in the postmodern, Western world, can get way too involved in ourselves: our thoughts, our actions, and especially our feelings. We can think, for example, that worship is mostly a matter of our emotions. So if I’m filling my Lent with wondering “How am I doing?” then the answer will surely be, “Quite poorly.” Much better questions for Lenten would include: “What is God doing in me? What is God saying to me? Who is God that he should be mindful of me? How can I give more of myself to God in this season, so that I might continue to live more thoroughly for him in the future? How is God pouring his grace into my life?”

Stay tuned for the next update in this series on live blogging Lent.

Live Blogging Lent: Lent is Odd

Part 2 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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Lent is odd.

There are several reasons for this. One has to do with the length of Lent. If you were to ask people how long Lent is, you’d probably hear “forty days.” This period of time is usually connected to Jesus’ sojourn in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry, which lasted forty days (Mark 1:13). The length of Jesus’ wilderness time is itself based on the forty years in which Israel wandered in the wilderness before entering the Promised Land (Exod 16:35). So Lent is a kind of wilderness experience for Christians, a forty-day period of focusing and fasting, a time of preparation for something momentous.

But if you were actually to count the number of days in Lent, beginning with Ash Wednesday and ending on Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, you’d get a total of forty-six days. You might wonder if Christians are really so bad at counting days as it seems. In fact, the Lenten season does include forty-six days, but the six Sundays during Lent are not counted in the number. There are different reasons for this odd enumeration of Sundays. The one I’ve heard most commonly is that Sunday is a day for remembering and celebrating Christ’s resurrection, and this means that Sunday’s don’t really reflect Lenten themes.

Lent is also an odd season because it’s not correlated with anything in popular culture that sets it apart. This may well be for the best. But it means that Lent doesn’t get much attention. By contrast, the season of Advent contains plenty of reminders that something special is on the way, namely Christmas. Lent, on the contrary, is largely ignored in our society. You don’t tend to hear Lenten carols playing in the malls during the month of March. Stores aren’t expecting much of a boost in sales because of Lent. No economic stimulus here. (Some restaurants do promote special Lenten fare. I noted the following sign last year at the Luby’s in Kerrville, Texas. This Luby’s is now closed. I guess the Lenten promo didn’t work well enough.)

Most of us won’t be hearing Lenten music in our homes, either. In fact, most of us probably don’t own recordings of music for Lent. We might not even be able to name any specifically Lenten music. And if we could identify music that’s suitable for Lent, it might not be something we would want to hear for an entire forty days (or forty six, counting the Sundays). You don’t get to do much decking of the halls in Lent. No joy to the world, either.

Lent is odd in the sense that it is culturally peculiar. It’s different from what our culture deems worthwhile. You don’t find many ads on television, for example, that encourage you to rest, reflect, and repent. Pop culture wants to fill our lives with stuff and noise and activity and acquisition, the very things Lent encourages us to let go of. Fasting doesn’t get the spotlight. And, if we take Jesus seriously, it shouldn’t.

Lent asks us to do odd things, like give up something we enjoy, or spend more time in quiet reflection, or invest our time in something that is for others rather than ourselves, or consider our sinfulness, or wait without expectation of instant gratification. In a world of noise, Lent invites us to be quiet. In a world of activity, it offers stillness. In a world of self-promotion, it asks for repentance. In a world of self-reliance, it calls us to lean back into the strong arms of God.

Like I said, Lent is odd. I don't mean this in a bad way. Sometimes odd is good. But odd is rarely easy or pleasant. Odd takes intentionality and effort. Just like Lent.

Live Blogging Lent: Fasting from Fast?

Part 3 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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I recently finished reading a book by James Gleick, Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything. Published in 2000, Faster argues that our lives are running after faster speeds in more ways than we usually realize. Though many of the illustrations in Faster are dated, this fact almost makes the point of the book more strongly. What seemed to be the breakneck pace of life in 2000 is slower than most of us live today.

I think most of us know this, but we tend to accept it as a given, rarely considering the consequences of our speedy lives. Lent provides an occasion to think about such things, as I'll explain later. For now, here are some excerpts from Faster that I found interesting. They’ll give you the flavor of the book.

Excerpts from Faster by James Gleick

We have reached the epoch of the nanosecond. This is the heyday of speed. “Speed is the form of ecstasy the technical revolution has bestowed on man,” laments the Czech novelist Milan Kundera, suggesting by ecstasy a state of simultaneous freedom and imprisonment. (KL 173-175, KL = Kindle Location)

We have a word for free time: leisure. Leisure is time off the books, off the job, off the clock. If we save time, we commonly believe we are saving it for our leisure. We know that leisure is really a state of mind, but no dictionary can define it without reference to passing time. It is unrestricted time, unemployed time, unoccupied time. Or is it? Unoccupied time is vanishing. The leisure industries (an oxymoron maybe, but no contradiction) fill time, as groundwater fills a sinkhole. The very variety of experience attacks our leisure as it attempts to satiate us. We work for our amusement. Five hundred channels became a watchword of the nineties even before, strictly speaking, it became a reality. It denotes too much to choose from. And not just channels: coffees, magazines and on-line ’zines, mustards and olive oils, celebrity perfumes and celebrity rumors, fissioning musical styles and digitized recordings of more different performances of Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony than Beethoven could have heard in his lifetime. (KL 234-242)

Our ability to work fast and play fast gives us power. It thrills us. If we have learned the name of just one hormone, it is adrenaline. No wonder we call sudden exhilaration a rush. (KL 274-276)

It is a token of our confusion: are we victims or perpetrators of the crime of haste? Are we living at high speed with athleticism and vigor, or are we stricken by hurry sickness? (KL 293-295)

David Hancock, chief of the Hitachi Corporation’s portable computer division, drove his team with the slogan “Speed is God, and time is the devil.”  (KL 1058-1059)

Nor does one buy deep-blue denim jeans with their dye stiff as tin, resigned to wearing them for a year before achieving a faded “look.” One buys them prewashed, prefaded, and maybe prepatched at the knees or seat. Who can wait for nature to take its course? (KL 1402-1403)

And workaholic was the coinage not of a teacher or lawyer but of a minister, Wayne E. Oates, who noticed in 1968 that he and his colleagues were often compulsive, driven, restless, and positively addicted to their calling. God’s work is never done. (KL 2016-2018)

Saul Bellow, naming our mental condition “an unbearable state of distraction,” decided the remote control was a principal villain. Pointless but intense excitement holds us, a stimulant powerful but short-lived. Remote control switches permit us to jump back and forth, mix up beginnings, middles and ends. Nothing happens in any sort of order. . . . Distraction catches us all in the end and makes mental mincemeat of us. (KL 2357-2361)

The remote control is a classic case of technology that exacerbates the problem it is meant to solve. As the historian of technology Edward Tenner puts it: “The ease of switching channels by remote control has promoted a more rapid and disorienting set of images to hold the viewer, which in turn is leading to less satisfaction with programs as a whole, which of course promotes more rapid channel-surfing.” (KL 2375-2378)

Is time saved when we manage to leave it empty, or when we stuff it with multiple activities, useful or pleasant? Does time-saving mean getting more done? If so, does daydreaming save time or waste it? What about talking on a cellular phone at the beach? Is time saved when we seize it away from a low-satisfaction activity, like ironing clothes, and turn it over to a high-satisfaction activity, like listening to music? What if we do both at once? If you can choose between a thirty-minute train ride, during which you can read, and a twenty-minute drive, during which you cannot, does the drive save ten minutes? Does it make sense to say that it saves ten minutes from your travel budget while removing ten minutes from your reading budget? (KL 2968-2975)

Tomorrow I’ll add an illustration of Faster in my professional life.

Live Blogging Lent: Fasting from Fast? (Section 2)

Part 4 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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Yesterday I began a Lenten review of the book Faster by James Gleick. Today I want to respond a bit more to the book, adding an apt illustration from my own life.

The basic thesis of Faster, prodigiously illustrated, is that just about everything in our lives is moving faster than ever before. Yet, according to Gleick, this fact hasn’t necessarily made our lives any better. We might think that “faster = better,” and it might seem that way at first, but before long we adjust our expectations so that “faster” becomes ordinary and life becomes more hectic, less restful, and more meaningless.

I’ve got a fitting example from my own life. If you’re over fifty, this example will probably fill you with nostalgia. If you’re under thirty, it will sound like I’m narrating ancient history. Either way, my personal case study shows how certain things are, indeed, faster, but not necessarily better, at least not entirely.

I am thinking of how interoffice communication has changed since I began work at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood in 1984. Twenty-six years ago, if I wanted to communicate with a colleague, I had a couple of choices besides a face-to-face meeting.

First, I could call my colleague on the phone, a landline call. If he or she was unable to pick up, there was no voice mail. We had one answering machine for the whole church, a 4,000 member church at that. Rather, if my colleague didn’t pick up, a secretary (yes, “secretary,” not “executive assistant”) would receive the call and take a message, usually on a specially made message pad that made a carbon copy for the secretary’s records. The message would be placed in my colleague’s inbox (a literal box!), to be found later in the day, or perhaps several days later. Friday afternoon phone messages might not be read until Tuesday morning, if my colleague happened to be a pastor who didn’t read messages on Sundays (a wise practice) and took Mondays off.

Once my colleague got my message, a similar procedure would be involved in responding to my call. Thus, there might be several days between the initiation of the communication on my part and the actual exchange of information. This didn’t seem slow to me. Just normal. In a real emergency I could call a colleague at home. But I rarely did this. We seemed just fine with a couple days lag time for exchanging messages.

In 1984, my second choice if I wanted to communicate with a colleague at work was to send a memo. Of course there was no electronic means to do this. Fax machines were rare and quite expensive in that day. So, here’s a fairly typical two-way memo sequence from 1984:

Monday: In the morning, I dictated a memo to a friend. In the early afternoon, my secretary typed it out on a typewriter, keeping a carbon copy for her files, and put it in an interoffice envelope. Because we missed the day’s mail pickup, which usually happened around noon, the memo sat in my secretary’s outbox for the rest of the day.

Tuesday: The church mail delivery person picked up the memo in its envelope, saving it for delivery the next day.

Wednesday: The memo was delivered to my colleague’s inbox. My colleague read the memo on Wednesday afternoon and dictated a response.

Thursday: My colleague’s secretary typed out the response, saving a carbon copy for her files. She did5 this in the morning, putting it in her outbox just in time for the daily mail pickup.

Friday: My colleague’s response was delivered to my inbox around noon. Because Friday was my official day off, I didn’t see the response.

Monday: I read my colleague’s response, almost exactly a week after the dictation of my first memo.

It did not occur to me to think this system of communication was slow. It was just normal.

In 1984, as Director of College Ministries at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, I had good relationships with my colleagues. We shared life and ministry together, seeing lots of exciting things happening in our church, our community, and around the world. We were busy, but were not frustrated by any slowness in our pace of ministry planning and implementation. In fact, these were highly productive and positive years for my colleagues and me.

Now, of course, interoffice communication happens just a wee bit faster today. If I want to communicate with a colleague at Laity Lodge (or Foundations for Laity Renewal, of which Laity Lodge is a part), I have four main options, in addition to wandering over to that person’s office (which I often do, in fact, now more than ever before). 

First, I can place a phone call with a landline to my colleague’s office landline. About half of the time I’ll get that person, much as was the case in 1984. If my colleague doesn’t pick up the phone, I’ll leave a voicemail message. I usually get a return call within a few hours at most.

Second, I can call someone on a cell phone. Often this gets the person right away, even if he or she is out of town. If I leave a voicemail, I generally get a return call in minutes, if not a couple of hours. (Exception: We have no cell service at Laity Lodge!!! I can’t get calls or messages. Nor can I make cell calls. Laity Lodge is an oasis of peacefulness in a cellular world.)

Third, I can send an email. This is, of course, the 2010 version of the interoffice memo. And this is often my preferred means of communication because of the convenience and the electronic record. No carbon copy required! If I send an email, it goes to the computer “inbox” of my colleague just as soon as I finish typing up the note. Often, my colleague will read the message within minutes (or seconds) and respond within minutes (or seconds). The average response time is less than a day in most cases. Quite a bit faster than the week or so that it took me to engage in a similar process in 1984.

Fourth, I can send a text message. Because I’m over fifty, this is not my preferred means of communication. My thumbs just aren’t fast enough. But, at times, I do send a text message, say, for example, when I need to tell somebody something somewhat urgent and I know he or she is in a meeting.

To be sure, there are other ways of communicating with my colleagues, such as Facebook or Twitter. But so far I have not found these to be especially helpful. Again, that’s probably because I’m well into middle age.

No question about it, the pace of interoffice communication is much faster than in 1984. There are plusses. Certain kinds of planning and decision-making can be done more easily and with less frustration. Certain kinds of questions can be answered in a timely fashion, like: Do you want to go to lunch tomorrow?

But are we really better off because we can communicate more quickly? Perhaps in some ways, but not in others. Faster may be better, but may also be worse. I’ll explain what I mean in my next post in this series.

Live Blogging Lent: Fasting from Fast? (Section 3)

Part 5 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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Last Thursday I put up some comments about and excerpts from a book: Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything by James Gleick. On Friday I wrote about how I have experienced “faster” in my professional life, using the example of interoffice communication. I concluded by suggesting that the ability to communicate much faster with colleagues might or might not be a plus. Today I want to explain a bit further what I mean.

Take email, for example. It enables me to engage in almost instant communication with a colleague when, twenty-five years ago, a similar conversation using interoffice memos might have taken a week. This enables me and my coworkers to move projects along a quicker pace than we would have been able to do in the past. When we’re facing time pressure, this is helpful. It allows us to get more done in less time, at least some of the time.

Plus, email has led to significant cost savings. When I began my professional life, I dictated my memos, which may have saved a few minutes of keyboarding time, but not much. Then my dictated memo had to be typed and prepared for sending by a secretary. Then it had to be transported by the interoffice mail person at work. Once the recipient had received the memo, a similar process began. My guess is that at least a couple of days a month of secretarial time are no longer needed because of email. Savings like this add up over time.

But there are downsides to email, of course. Perhaps my biggest pet peeve is the time-wasting tendency of many emailers to send copies to everybody and their brother or sister. Somebody sends out an email to a dozen people that requires a response only to the sender, but half of the recipients click the “Reply All” button, filling multiple inboxes with unnecessary verbiage.

Even more dangerous, I believe, is the tendency for some people to use email as a vehicle for communicating when they are angry. This is a VERY BAD IDEA! (Yes, I am shouting. No, I am not currently angry.) During my last ten years at Irvine Presbyterian Church, I’d estimate that at least a third of church conflict was directly related to emails sent in haste when a writer was angry. And because email has a kind of anonymous, informal feeling, people sometimes say in email what they would never say in person, or even in a snail mail letter. To make matters worse, they often copy other people in the process simply because they can. This multiplies the anger and misunderstandings, turning a relatively small disagreement into a major mess. After seeing the disasters caused my rushed, angry emails, I resolved some time ago NEVER to send an email when I was angry. Mostly I’ve kept this resolution. Mostly.

There are other problems associated with email, and these bring us closer to the themes of Lent and the whole notion of fasting from “faster.” The first of these has to do with the expectations created by email. Where I once expected that it would take about a week for me to hear back from a colleague to whom I had written a memo, I now expect a response within hours, or even within minutes. A day’s lag time can be frustrating, even stirring up anger. As Gleick aptly demonstrates in Faster, when a new technology enables us to do some task more quickly, at first we are impressed and delighted. But then we adjust our expectations. We no longer enjoy the speed of the technology, but rather accept it as a given. Thus things may be moving along faster, but we’re not any happier. In fact, we might even be less happy are more stressful than in a slower day.

I first noted the way email had changed expectations in about my tenth year as Senior Pastor of Irvine Presbyterian Church. I was doing a sermon series on Sabbath, and became convicted about my own tendency to work every day without a break. Yes, I had Mondays off, but I would usually work at least part of Mondays in order to get a jump on the week. God had rested for a day during the first week, and had included the Sabbath in the Ten Commandments, but for some crazy reason I felt as if I didn’t need to honor the Sabbath.

This changed as I worked through all of the biblical passages on Sabbath, including the New Testament texts that teach us to avoid legalisms that so easily become entangled with Sabbath-keeping. I realized that I needed to set apart a day in which I didn’t work (expect in emergencies). Given my family life and my unusual work patter, I decided that my Sabbath would begin on Sunday after church (usually around 1:00 p.m.) and extend for twenty-four hours (at least). I would devote one day a week to rest, prayer, family, and restoration. At least that was the plan.

One evening at the meeting of my Session (the elders and pastors of a Presbyterian church), I explained what I had been thinking and my conclusion that I needed to rest from Sunday afternoon through Monday afternoon. I told the Session that I would, of course, be available by phone in any kind of genuine emergency. And, yes, I realized that sometimes I would need to work during my Sabbath (a Sunday evening wedding, for example). But my plan was to refrain from working, and that meant, among other things, that I would not be checking email for twenty-four hours. I would do at least a quick email check on Monday evening, and make sure I had responded to everything in my inbox by Tuesday evening.

Several of the elders of my Session spoke words of affirmation. Some even thought about joining me in this adventure in resting. But several elders were distressed. “What do you mean that you’re not going to check your email?” one of them asked. I explained again what I meant. But this did not satisfy him. “How can you not check your email for a whole day? What if I send you something and need an answer?” he responded. I said it wouldn’t be easy, but it seemed like the right thing for me to do, given my understanding of Scripture. “But I can’t do that,” he said, with some anger in his voice. “My boss expects me to be available 24/7.” He pulled out his Blackberry. “I’m supposed to be checking and responding to email all the time. I can’t take a Sabbath. And I expect you to be available to us in the same way.” I told him I was sorry, but that I didn't think I could do what he wanted from me.

I’m not sure that elder was ever satisfied with my decision to try and rest from work for a day a week. Part of his unhappiness was personal. He lived in a world that demanded his constant availability, and he resented the fact that I could choose a different way of living. But much of his unhappiness was a result simply of his expectations. He had come to expect, partly because of my own previous pattern, that I would be checking my email at least once a day, a preferably more often. Work didn’t belong simply within work hours, even if these hours stretched throughout the day for six days a week. Work claimed the whole week, or, better, it claimed us throughout the whole week, without a break. God may have rested on the Sabbath, but we can’t expect to do the same.

“Faster” (the concept, not the book) is increasingly dominating our lives, as Faster (the book) aptly demonstrates. It may have improved certain aspects of life, but at a high cost.

Lent, it seems to me, provides an opportunity for us to slow down and reflect upon our lives. It offers the chance to slow down enough to examine our pace of living. It invites us to fast, not just from enjoyable food, but from fast living.

Tomorrow I want to add one further concern that connects Faster to Lent.

Live Blogging Lent: Fasting from Fast? (Section 4)

Part 6 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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Today I finish up my Lenten reflections on Faster: The Acceleration of Just About Everything by James Gleick. Let me begin with a quotation from the book:

Who knew that the inconvenience of old-fashioned letter-writing provided a buffer? Highway engineers learned that they could ward off freeway congestion by holding back cars at the entrance ramps, forcing them to wait at seemingly pointless red lights – for their own good, in the long run. In the same way, the unavoidable delays in volleys of business communication before fax, before FedEx, and before E-mail, served as pauses for thought. A lawyer could reconsider a rash piece of mail while it was in the stenographer’s out-box. Decisions could ferment during accidental slow periods.

Perhaps we simply have not had time to adjust. We may need to set aside formal time for deliberation, where once we used accidental time. (KL 1248-1255)

As I have illustrated from my own work experience over the last twenty-five years, the pace of communication at work has increased dramatically, owing mostly to technological innovations. When I receive an email, the sender expects a quick response. And, usually, I make a quick response. In many cases this is just fine. But sometimes my responses are too hasty. Sometimes I fail to give my thoughts the time they deserve because “faster” is part of the DNA of email.

I am generally less inclined to take time to think about my emails than I would be if I were using older forms of communication. I’m sure that, at times, this leads to superficiality and even error because I haven’t thought enough about what I really ought to write.

But I am not necessarily trapped by the email ethos of speed. I can, if I wish, decide to say “No” to hurry and “Yes” to thoughtfulness. For example, every now and then I respond to an email with a quick response that says something like this: “Thanks for your email. I want to acknowledge that I received it, but I also want to take time to digest it before I respond. If you don’t hear back from me in a week, feel free to poke me.” (Someone recently took me literally, in a digital mode, that is, by becoming a Facebook friend so she could “poke” me.)

It is hard, however, to step back from what is expected and common. If we’re used to rushing our responses and if our corporate culture expects us to hurry, then we won’t slow down unless something incisive interrupts us, inviting us to take time for deliberation and reflection. That something just might be Lent. Perhaps some of us need to fast in Lent, not from food or other pleasures, but “fast” and “faster.”

Last Saturday I was forced to slow down. I decided to burn a large pile of brush that had accumulated in my back yard. Yes, this is legal where I live in Texas. And, yes, given recent rains and the placement of my brush pile, it was quite safe. But I had never done anything like this before. When I first lit the pile, it was soon a raging inferno. I had to stand about fifteen feet back in order not to be burned. But, before long, the flames and subsided. The leaves that had collected at the bottom of the pile, and which were still quite wet from the rain, took forever to burn. They smoked and smoldered for hours.

I didn’t want to leave my burning brush for reasons of safety. So, for a while, I found jobs to do that allowed me to stay nearby. I cut down a couple of small dead trees and turned them into firewood for next winter. But after a while I ran out of chores. So I took a beach chair, placed it near the fire, and sat. I sat and sat and sat and sat.

At first I thought of all the things I wasn’t getting done. But, I reasoned, it was Lent and Lent is a time to slow down. So I sat some more. I thought. I reminisced. I prayed. And I sat. After a while, I found my internal clock slowing down. I enjoyed watching the smoke and not worrying about what I wasn’t accomplishing. I can’t remember when I sat so long just doing “nothing.” Funny, isn’t it, how I tend to think of resting, reflecting, and relaxing as doing “nothing.”

Maybe I should resolve always to burn my brush pile during Lent. It might enforce a healthy fast from fast.

Live Blogging Lent: With a Little Help From My Friends

Part 7 of series: Live Blogging Lent
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I doubt that John Lennon and Paul McCartney were thinking about Lent when they wrote: "With a Little Help From My Friends." And I doubt Ringo Starr envisioned Lenten disciplines when he sang the song for the Beatles' 1967 album Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. But, the truth is, that our experience of Lent is enriched when we share it with friends.

To be sure, the support and partnership of Christian friends can help us in the fasting element of Lent. If someone knows of your commitment to give up something pleasurable for six weeks, that person can offer encouragement and accountability. Shared sacrifice can also help us when we are feeling tempted to abandon our fast.

Sharing Lent with others also impacts our experience besides fasting. For example, many churches host special Lenten Bible studies or worship services. These seasonal gatherings can draw our hearts to the Lord.

Last week I participated in a Lenten chapel service at the First Presbyterian Church of Kerrville, Texas, not far from the offices of Laity Lodge. The Friday noon service was simple, befitting the season, but it was not somber or gloomy. The Call to Worship based on Psalm 27 urged us to “Wait for the Lord!” The opening hymn, “My Song Is Love Unknown,” focused on the love of Christ: “Love to the loveless shown, That they might lovely be.” A moving solo of the contemporary song “Via Dolorosa” preceded my scripture reading of Philippians 3:17-4 and my short homily based on this text. (Photo: First Presbyterian Church of Kerrville, Texas.)

After the sermon, the congregation and I joined together in a stirring prayer. The bulletin explained that it was based on a fourteenth-century prayer know as Anima Christi (“Soul of Christ”). Here is that prayer:

Soul of Jesus, sanctify me.
Blood of Jesus, wash me.
Passion of Jesus, comfort me.
Wounds of Jesus, hide me.
Heart of Jesus, receive me.
Spirit of Jesus, enliven me.
Goodness of Jesus, pardon me.
Beauty of Jesus, draw me.
Humility of Jesus, humble me.
Peace of Jesus, pacify me.
Love of Jesus, inflame me.
Kingdom of Jesus, come to me.
Grace of Jesus, replenish me.
Mercy of Jesus, pity me.
Sanctity of Jesus, sanctify me.
Cross of Jesus, support me.
Nails of Jesus, hold me.
Mouth of Jesus, bless me.
Jesus, Son of God, save me. Amen.

The service concluded with the congregation singing the African-American spiritual: “I Want Jesus to Walk with Me,” followed by a benediction. Then, the worshipers gathered together for a simple lunch, a time of good food and conversation.

Last week, I “got by with a little help from my friends” at First Presbyterian in Kerrville Their chapel service reminded me of the most important Lenten friend all of. This friend is celebrated in the lyrics of “My Song is Love Unknown,” with which I close this post:

Christ came from heaven's throne,
Salvation to bestow,
But people scorned and none,
The longed-for Christ would know.
But O my Friend,
My Friend indeed,
Who at my need his life did spend.

Here might I stay and sing,
No story so divine:
Never was love, dear King,
Never was grief like Thine.
This is my Friend,
In whose sweet praise,
I all my days,
Could gladly spend.

(Verses 2 and 5 of "My Song is Love Unknown" by Samuel Crossman, 1664. public domain.)