With two weeks remaining of the Lenten season, I thought I would offer some suggestions and resources for a strong finish. My first advice is don’t give up! Don’t worry if you’ve had trouble sticking to your Lenten promises. One thing that gives me hope when I feel like I’ve blown it is the Stations of the Cross. They remind me that Jesus fell three times while he was carrying his cross. Jesus asks us to carry our crosses, true, but when did he ever say don’t drop your cross? Now I’m no expert on this, but let me just suggest for a moment that the person who struggles and falls from time to time might actually be doing a better job at carrying his Lenten cross than the guy who glides through Lent effortlessly. (“I gave up candy for Lent—candy that begins with the letter “Z.”)
So, my first piece of advice is this: try to go to the Stations of the Cross tonight at your church. Since it’s Friday, remember to stay away from meat. The Rule of St. Benedict calls for no food until 3pm on a fast day. That might seem a bit extreme, but maybe you could give up lunch today and pray a rosary instead—or read the Bible!
[Chorus]: “But we aren’t monks, John! You know what St. Francis de Sales says. . . . ”
Yeah, I know. I’ve heard those arguments for years, and I’ve often wondered what St. Francis de Sales would say if he were alive today. Let me go out on a limb here and say that, if you want a good guide for a devout lay spirituality, today, you would do better to concentrate on St. Basil the Great and his buddies. I would take the spirituality of de Sales’ An Introduction to the Devout Life only in small portions, with a glass of water—as needed. (Anything more than that, consult your Physician.)
The tradition of the great Orthodox Church of the East is to view the monk’s life as a kind of Platonic ideal or form that lay people are called to imitate as far as possible, as far as their station in life will permit. They got this view of things from Basil the Great who saw monastic spirituality not merely as a particular vocation to which a tiny minority of Christians is called. He believed, rather, that authentic Christianity was essentially monastic—that all Christians were called to embrace a monastic vocation to the best of their ability.
One of the main reasons why this blog is called New Walden is because, in a quirky kinda way, I think that Thoreau’s experiment represented something of the spirit of this way of thinking about Christianity. I say in the blog’s mission statement that I believe that America desperately needs a spiritual revival. That’s what this blog is all about—helping to make that spiritual revival happen. But it needs to be the right kind of spiritual revival. And in my opinion, the right kind of spiritual revival would be both Christian and monastic. It would also necessarily be American. Thoreau thus represents a kind of patron saint for our cause.
These ideas may seem foreign and exotic—un-American even. But I think that Thoreau’s example shows us quite the opposite—that perhaps such a newfangled Christian experiment is as American as apple pie. Anyway, I’m going with it.
I would like to invite you to come along. And I want to recommend a couple of books for the journey, both by Rod Dreher. The first is his recent bestseller, The Benedict Option. The book was controversial and much discussed and debated. Recently, it won the award for best conservative book of the year. The ceremony for that award is April 7th, so I’ve decided that I will dedicate an NWbook-club episode to The Benedict Option to mark the occasion. Go out and get the book, and we can talk about it. The other book is Crunchy Cons, which I think serves as an excellent prequel.
While on the topic of books, permit me to make another Lenten recom-mendation. According to the Rule of St. Benedict, each monk is assigned to read a spiritual book, beginning to end, during Lent. So why not start reading? Here are some of my suggestions.
resources for a monastic lent
Books to Read:
- The Ladder of Divine Ascent
- The Imitation of Christ
- The Life of Moses
- The Benedict Option
- The Rule of St. Benedict
Resources for Fasting
- http://www.abbamoses.com/fasting.html (Notice the references to “what the monks do.” When have you ever heard that in the Roman Church?)
- Pray the Psalms! This is an ancient monastic tradition. Desert hermits would pray the entire book of the Psalms in a single day. The Rule of St. Benedict has a schedule for getting through the Psalms in a week. A layperson could never do this. So I created a prayer schedule that takes 1 month to get through the Psalms.
- THE ROSARY!