Posted by: Sue Spencer | February 8, 2008

Lenten Intentions: Giving up? Taking on? Or letting go?

In January, knowing that my prayer life had hit a rather drifty stage, my spiritual director suggested that for Lent I become more focused. “Why don’t you draw up one or more specific intentions?” she asked. “We can talk about them next month.” She proceeded to schedule our next appointment for Shrove Tuesday – Ash Wednesday Eve, in effect.

As early as elementary school, I remember hearing kids talk about what they were going to “give up for Lent.” If asked about Lenten intentions, “giving things up” may still be the first thing many people think of. Others deride this whole notion, and say that what we really should be doing in Lent is “taking something on.”

I’m not part of this latter group. For one thing, by this time of year, I’ve usually “taken on” plenty! Also, over the years, I’ve found it personally helpful to practice some kind of Lenten austerity – usually giving up sugar. In my new life, of course, this has gotten much more intense. If you read yesterday’s post, you’ll see that our life changes quite a bit at Melrose during this forty-day period. We are, indeed, giving many things up for Lent!

What’s helpful for me to remember, though, is that this austerity is only a means to an end. We give up accustomed ways so that something different can happen. We let go of some things so that a new thing may come in.

One fast I haven’t mentioned is the “Alleluia fast.” For Lent, we simply stop saying or singing “Hallelujah” or its Latin equivalent, and this goes on until Easter. But it takes some of us one or more glaring mistakes to catch on. I knew about the Alleluia fast, but did it stop me from singing the very first Alleluia in the morning office, when I should have omitted it? Of course not! Embarrassing – but I did have company.

In reflecting on how this had happened, I realized that I’d simply been on automatic pilot. One of the things Lent does, I think, is help us get off automatic pilot and learn – as Thoreau would put it – “to live deliberately.”

In my next post, I’ll let you know in what direction my Lenten intentions are heading, in what might be considered a 21st century version of “Walden.”



  1. Blessed Unrest–a fantastic book. May I also commend to your reading stand–David C. Korten’s book, The Great Turning.

    Also, if you google Awakening the Dreamer you will learn about “the Symposium.” May I encourage you and your sisters to find a symposium (see the website) near you and attend–yes, it puts your whole set of “life style” in a cosmic context.

    Blessings upon you all during this– a time we are marked with ashes and wait for Light!

    Cheerfully, Roger Kuhrt

  2. Thanks, Roger – a colleague I’ve known since our days of ministry in the Pacific Northwest!

    I heard David Korten speak at the 2006 General Assembly, and picked up a copy of his book then, and can second your recommendation.

    As for “Awakening the Dreamer,” I was fortunate to attend their one-day symposium while I was still in Massachusetts, and some of the sisters have not only attended it, but also assisted in putting it on.

    For a longer, more intense experience, I can also recommend the programs at Genesis Farm in Blairstown, NJ. Many of the sisters have been there. Last August I spent two-and-a-half weeks participating in their program “Exploring a New Cosmology,” and it was transformative.

    Thanks for writing – and blessings on thee, too!

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