I am preparing a series of talks entitled ‘Grace, Desire and Discernment’. I began writing the first talk a few days ago. I found myself linking the grace of the First Week of the Spiritual Exercises – the grace to know myself to be a loved sinner – with the Lenten journey.
I am sure I am not the first person to make this link, but it is the first time it has occurred to me. As we begin Lent there are many blog posts, articles and sermons on the theme of how we should be observing Lent. Discussions on what ‘fasting’ means and how it should be applied. Slightly broader conversations on the purpose of the Lenten observation and what it should be.
Some have been helpful and some fairly predictable. But in the last few days I find myself wondering why it is that we focus so much on the things that we do during Lent. Why do we not actively pray for grace.
For me the grace for which I am praying is the grace of the First Week. The grace to know myself to be a loved sinner. I pray that through the observation of Lent I may become more aware of my own sinfulness; of the ways in which I now falter; of the brokenness which shapes my perception. All this against the backdrop of the unconditional love of God, looking forward to the celebration of Easter which is precisely the demonstration of this love.
Whichever theological lens we use to view the Paschal mystery the unequivocal message is the abounding love of God.
My Lenten journey this year is not so much about what I am doing (or not doing). I am still observing Lent in those ways. But, much more importantly, I am praying for grace. The grace that through this time I will come to new understanding both of my own sinfulness and of the love of God for me.
How is it possible that I have observed well over thirty Lents and have never thought of praying for grace? I guess I am grateful that God hasn’t held back on bestowing grace just because it didn’t occur to me to ask.