To Lengthen Our Souls

by The Rev. Dr. Jason Parkin

I remember the delight I experienced during my first year of Latin in high school when I figured out that the word "Lent" was derived from the ancient word lentus. This word means "slow," and, as such, seemed to reflect well the somber sensation of the season. Having studied the piano for some years by that point, I was already familiar with the musical term lento, an indication that a piece be played in a slow, deliberate manner. Certainly these two linguistics parallels made sense, for, to a high school kid struggling to make it through the day and the season without chocolate or snacking or whatever I had given up that year, Lent did, indeed, seem slow and very stretched out. More positively, Lent struck me then-as it still does-as a time to slow down, to reevaluate, to take stock, to change rhythm and rhyme.

The truth, of course, is that "Lent" comes from the Anglo-Saxon word lencten, which refers to the season of spring; and the word lenctentid was the Anglo-Saxon word for the month of March, and both of these words come from the same root as the word "lengthen." Although the name Lent really refers, then, to the lengthening of the days during spring, it seems an appropriate metaphor for the season in another way; for is not God calling us, during this season about to begin, to lengthen our souls, so to speak? The goal of Lent is to grow closer to God through self-evaluation and repentance and amendment of our lives. Lent serves as a reality check, as a reminder that all that we do and all that we are and all that have and all that we hold dear are gifts from God, and that the most appropriate posture, as we await the glory of the Resurrection, is humility and gratitude before the One from whom flows all, is to lengthen our souls, to make them roomier for God.

There are many ways to enter the spirit of the season of Lent, many ways to lengthen our souls. Abstention from substances or actions that distract us. Additional time spent in prayer. Acts of mercy or compassion among those in sorrow or need. Forgiveness of the wrongs others have done, and reconciliation with those whom we have wronged. Fasting. And may I, in the spirit of lengthening our souls, suggest that we follow the anonymous meditation below, perhaps concentrating on a different petition each day?

     Fast from judging others; feast on Christ dwelling in them.
     Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
     Fast from anger; feast on patience.
     Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
     Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion.
     Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
     Fast from gossip; feast on silence.
     Fast from sorrow; feast on joy.
     Fast from worry; feast on faith.

This year, the holy day of Ash Wednesday falls on February 13. In order to provide times that might be convenient for a variety of schedules, we will observe Ash Wednesday with the Holy Eucharist and Imposition of Ashes at 7:00 in the morning, 12:00 noon, and 5:30 p.m. Please note that there is no celebration of the Eucharist that day at the regular 9:00 a.m. time. This schedule has been created in the hope that some people-especially, perhaps, those who work nearby-might be able to come to the Eucharist over the noon hour, and that the later afternoon service will be more convenient to families with school-aged children, and some commuters. Please make a special effort to participate in one of these celebrations in order that, as the Book of Common Prayer exhorts us, we might all make a "right beginning" to the holy and poignant season of Lent.