Next month will begin the season of Lent for my Orthodox friends. This will be the fourth Lent that I have observed in my own modified way.
I am not Orthodox. My faith does not recognize Lent in any formal fashion. Still, I have found that each year as I spend that sacred 40 days in increased prayer and pondering, fasting, and personal discipline my spiritual walk is enriched and my life is blessed.
My faith does not have liturgy and is very minimal in ritual. We do not repeat prescribed prayers. In most cases, I am grateful for the freedom of the "from the heart" conversation sort of prayers I have with God. Still, I find there is comfort in reflecting on the words of some of the set prayers that my Orthodox brothers and sisters wrap their souls around.
For example, the Prayer of Saint Ephraim... One translation of it is:
O Lord and master of my life!
Do not give me the spirit of discouragement and slothfulness,
of ambition and vain talk!
Instead, give me the spirit of prudence and humility,
of patience and charity.
Yes, my king and Lord, let me look at my own sins
and refrain from judging others:
For you are bless'd unto ages of ages, amen.
I can be blessed by soaking in those words.
I will not observe the feasts and fasts in the same way as my Orthodox pals. But my hope is that I WILL be able to use this upcoming 40 days for some focused, dedicated reflection of spirit so that I might come out closer to God when we get to holy Pascha, when I can truly celebrate with them in calling out Christ is Risen!
I have a deep and peaceful testimony of the teachings of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I believe to the core of my being that the story of the First Vision is TRUE, not just some made up tale. I believe in a God with a very real physical presence, a God I can hug. I believe in Jesus Christ as a separate being, also physical - united with the Father in sacred purpose but a distinct separate individual member of the Godhead. I believe in the Holy Ghost as a distinct personage without a corporeal body.
Because of what I believe - denying the Nicene Creed of trinity - most other churches judge me to not be Christian. So be it. I know what I know.
But I also know that somehow my association with friends of OTHER faiths has helped me better understand and more strongly believe in my own.
So I am preparing for Lent...hoping to approach in with as much sincere humility, repentance and faith as this weak sinner girl can.
I will hold strong to prayer. I will fast in my own way. I will study. I will reach for ways to overcome the "natural man" passions and be renewed. I will try with all my might to lay aside my prideful nature of wanting to control my own fate and practice spiritual surrender.
Lent, for me, is a very private thing between me and my God. Sometimes I wish I had others I could turn to for sharing the insights, the struggles, the epiphanies that come along the way. I don't have the support system of a congregation sharing a similar journey. I can't truly share with my Orthodox role models, because for them it is a very different sort of experience than what I embark on. So I go my own way as best as I can and try to make meaning of it according to the belief system that I have embraced.
Perhaps that solitude of journey is why I have always related so much to St. Mary of Egypt...who spent all those years alone in the desert. I prepare to cross over into my own desert to confront my passions, to submit my soul. I know from past years there will be times of tremendous heartache and times of mind bending joy as I glimpse even a fraction of the Love the Savior has for me.
My greatest challenge is reconciling my sense of unworthiness with the knowledge that God is real and does know me, and loves me still.
There is so very much I do not understand. Each year as my walk through Lent comes I find that more to be true. Still, each year that comes, I learn that striving to open up my spirit to the questions blesses me, even when the answers do not readily come. So I prepare to begin again...