The Praying Habit: Lent

I have a spotty relationship with Lenten disciplines. The season was commemorated at the Lutheran church I grew up attending with Wednesday soup dinners and Tenebrae services following them in addition to the regular Sunday church services, the sanctuary decorated in the liturgically appropriate purple. I recall some of my Sunday school classmates giving something up, usually a food or drink item like chocolate or pop (yes, pop—this was in Minnesota), but choosing a Lenten sacrifice wasn’t something that was emphasized in Sunday school. Not wanting to be like everyone else giving up candy or Coke and lacking any great ideas of my own, I rarely observed the practice and completely stopped once my mother let me off the church attendance hook after I was confirmed.

I wasn’t expecting Lent to be a part of my life after this, but my stumbling upon and becoming involved with a welcoming, progressive campus ministry at my college made it relevant once again. I considered some options, but at this point the concept of giving something up for Lent struck me as being more about testing my self control, not so much being a spiritual discipline (it hadn’t occurred to me that it could be both). One year, in an effort to be unique I decided to keep a modified version of kosher. I wasn’t buying exclusively kosher meat and waiting six hours between meat and dairy, but I didn’t put cheese on the chicken sandwiches I made at the cafeteria and avoided pork and seafood. I almost made it. Potatoes au gratin with chunks of ham in it finally made me bow to temptation.

Since that attempt I haven’t really had the spiritual or creative motivation to come up with something to give up or take on for Lent. My religiosity and spirituality have fluctuated since graduating and moving on from the college church group that provided me with a structure in which to explore how I wanted to relate to Christianity, or any faith at all.

This year, I’ve made the commitment to pray every day during Lent. I can’t put my finger on where exactly this idea came from, though I think it took root when I saw Mary Valle offering thoughts and prayers to Killing the Buddha readers and other folks she interacted with online. I used to pray pretty consistently, as a child and into adulthood even writing in a prayer journal during a particularly fervent phase of seeking the holy, but have since slacked off, often drifting to sleep before the idea occurs.

In order to make this a bit more interesting (and hopefully, a bit more spiritually fruitful) I’m planning on changing up the style of prayer I do for each week of Lent. I’m starting with my normal habit of praying in bed before I fall asleep for the first week, and for each week following I’ll be using different faiths’ styles of praying. On my list is Mormon, Catholic, Jewish and Quaker prayer, spending the final week going back to my traditional style of prayer to see if and how praying in these different ways affects my prayer life. It would be fair to criticize me for only exploring prayer through a Western, Judeo-Christian lens, and perhaps if I attempt this again I’ll try to incorporate meditation, Hindu or Muslim prayer. For this year, I want to approach traditions that I’m somewhat familiar with as a way of easing myself back into the praying habit.

Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote, “To pray is to take notice of the wonder, to regain the sense of the mystery that animates all beings, the divine margin in all attainments.” I begin these six weeks with some anxiety and skepticism that I’ll be able to acknowledge mystery or wonder,  but I am hopeful that I do.

Carolyn Browender is an activist and seeker living in Washington, D.C. She was raised Lutheran by a practicing Christian mother and secular Jewish father. You can also find her on Twitter.