A different take on lenten prayer ends in September

By Jeannette Timmerman

The presentation by our parish priest of Lent as a joyful season was a totally new concept to me this year. I had never heard the words “Lent” and “joyful” joined together.

I took to the idea wholeheartedly. The three-prong approach of fasting, prayer and almsgiving took on an entirely different slant for my 2014 Lent.

For many years I have not used food as my form of fasting. But this year when I gave up my one addictive computer game as my fasting component, it became sort of a fun thing to do, even joyful. I must admit, though, since I use it as a mindless relaxing pastime, I sat down to play a number of times only to remember it was a no go. I gave it up from Ash Wednesday until the end of Holy Saturday. Yes, Sundays weren’t seen as exemption days.

Prayer also took on a different perspective. On Ash Wednesday there were two booklets available as I entered the church narthex — I still can’t get used to saying narthex for the entry space even though the term is not a new one. One booklet was God’s Abiding Love: Daily Lenten Meditations and Prayers, by Henri J. M. Nouwen. The other was Take Up Your Cross: Daily Prayers for Lent by Trevor Sutton.

The latter book’s prayers really had an impact on me. They seemed to speak to me directly with connections to events in my own, my family and my friends’ lives. The daily prayer always anchored me.
However, it was almsgiving that brought joy to my lenten journey. I decided that as usual I would make a monetary donation to Development and Peace.

But the main impetus of my almsgiving this Lent was to give my time away to a greater degree than my usual volunteering, driving friends to medical appointments, and visiting an aunt in a nursing home.

My approach was simple. Our Winnipeg winter seemed long and harsh by the time Ash Wednesday arrived. I didn’t know then that it would be the coldest winter since 1898.

I decided it would be a great idea to get in touch with those whom my husband, Peter, and I hadn’t seen for ages and also with others we see more frequently. We would share a meal and a visit.

I made a list of 19 people. Next I began to make arrangements. The whole endeavour snowballed. I began eating my way through Lent! Peter, a staunch agnostic, joined in on many occasions. In fact, a few times he was the main cook for the meals at our home.

A friend whom we hadn’t seen in months met us at a restaurant. It was wonderful to eat leisurely and catch up. Unexpectedly, a couple on my list called and asked to take Peter and me out for a meal to thank us for a favour. Again we enjoyed good conversation and food.

On a lunch outing with a cousin at a local bookstore we ran into two people we knew and they joined us. One of them was on my list; the other was an unexpected bonus.

My sister and brother-in-law came by to pick up an item and stay for lunch. Two other couples arrived for a meal after mass one Sunday. A third couple decided they would like to have us as guests at their place after Lent was over. And they did.

We touched base at a favourite restaurant with a nephew whom we hadn’t spent time with lately. An annual lunch date with a friend from my teenage years and her husband fell in the span of Lent.

An addition of four to our list resulted when our eldest grandchild had her second baby in Alberta. Our three-year-old great-grandson in that family came to Manitoba for a couple of weeks. What a joy to have him, his grandfather and partner, and our 21-year-old grandson arrive for a meal and an afternoon spending time together.

However, Easter arrived and I still had one name on my lenten list. That name nagged at me. Finally, in September, we met for coffee. We hadn’t seen each other in at least two years since he was widowed. What a great visit.

So in September my 2014 Lent finally ended. I know from this experience Lent will never be the same again.

The season emphasized how truly blessed Peter and I are with our family, friends, and good health. Although we were tired at times from these extra outings and hosting of meals in such a condensed period, Peter, who doesn’t observe Lent, enjoyed the almsgiving of our time as much as I did.

Timmerman, a cradle Catholic, is married to an agnostic. She writes from Winnipeg.

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