Yesterday the Catholic Christian liturgical season of Lent began with Ash Wednesday, and will continue until Easter Sunday on April 4. Other Protestant Christian denominations also celebrate Lent, with varying degrees of intensity. In the past, Lent involved mostly personal sacrifice and penitence, but in recent years many have tried to reframe it as a time of spiritual introspection or even environmental action. (Check out the carbon fast advocated by Anglican bishops.)
Many of us (myself included) have long since given up the idea of giving up things for Lent, but the idea of setting aside an extended period of time for focusing on one’s spiritual life is worth exploring. For those who celebrate traditional Christian Lent, by all means continue to do so! It is not my intent to detract from that practice, but rather to offer ideas that are accessible to all, regardless of one’s religion. Natural spirituality is a human thing, an Earth thing, an if-you-live-on-this-planet sort of thing. It can stand alone, or exist side by side or be integrated with traditional (or non-traditional) religion. It is entirely up to you.
The word Lent itself derives from an Anglo-Saxon word meaning “spring” and originally had no religious connotations at all. Spring is an excellent time for a conscious focus on natural spirituality, given the transitional, liminal nature of the season. Setting aside a time in autumn or even deep winter would also work, and have a completely different feel to it. Consider the following ideas, and if one (or more) speak to you, give them a try. Feel free to share your experiences as the season progresses.
Choose a time frame. I suggest a few weeks at least, to allow for extended reflection. Try to bookend the time with a natural marker. Perhaps a month could be noted by moon phases (new moon to new moon, or full to full). Using the equinox (March 20) as a beginning or ending marker is very appropriate. Another way to approach it is to take a very personal approach. How about beginning when the first crocus blooms in your area and ending when the last one fades? You could choose any natural marker that is personal to you, such as the flowering of a tree in your yard. The point is to have a set beginning and end based on some sort of timetable drawn from Nature.
Choose a practice (or several). I strongly advocate something daily, even if it is very brief. You could spend more time on weekends or days off if you choose, but a daily check-in is something to strive for. What will you do? It depends on your personal life. Choose something that works with the realities of your daily round. Consider the possiblities… A meditative walk. Silent contemplation outdoors. Reading Thoreau. Writing poetry. Observing and journaling the seasonal changes in your own backyard. Bird watching. Gazing at the night sky. Pondering the melting snow. Contemplative gardening. Watching the dawn or sunset. Eating seasonal food. Mix and match as your life allows.
Make it work. Be gentle with yourself. Deciding to meditate for an hour at dawn outdoors may not be realistic if you are a busy single parent in a cold climate. Nurturing yourself daily is more imporant than meeting a goal. Allow Nature to inspire, support and enrich you. Don’t get tangled up in thoughts of what you “should” do.
Mark the beginning and the end of your time. For an extended time like Natural Lent, it helps to create a small ceremony to mark the beginning and end. This doesn’t have to be complicated. A simple cup of tea, sipped mindfully, can serve the purpose. So can lighting a candle. Or reading a poem aloud. Again, make it personal, and choose what works for you.
Nature is the Great Source. We are Nature, and Nature is us. Celebrating a personal season like Natural Lent can be a spiritual homecoming of sorts, an awakening to the miracle of all Life. Find the Sacred all around, and let it speak to your heart.
Photo Credit: photographer spsmiler at wikimedia commons from http://www.creativecommons.org/
Note: This post was inspired by my cyber-friend, blogger “plaidshoes.” Check out her post here.