March 1, 2011
Preparing for Lent with Juliet Benner
(Many thanks to Juliet Benner, author of Contemplative Vision, for this post.)
Lent is a time of preparation for Easter and the mysteries of life, death and resurrection that we celebrate during Holy Week. Many Christians understand this preparation primarily in terms of things that they choose to give up for the 40 days before Easter. But if Holy Week is a ritual walk through the events of the passion, crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, perhaps the most basic way of thinking about preparation for this is to view Lent as spreading our engagement with these Holy Week events over 40 days rather than 7. What if you could use Lent as a 6 week journey with Jesus in which you spend time with him in Gospel meditation, watching his interactions with others and getting to know him? Think of how this would prepare you for Maundy Thursday when you accompany him to the Last Supper with his disciples. Or how it would help you enter more fully into his suffering and crucifixion on Good Friday, or your waiting with him on that longest day of the year - the Holy Saturday of his entombment. And think how this would help you then journey with Mary Magdalene to the tomb on Easter mornings, or be with the disciples when they first heard the news of his resurrection.
This is preparation that my book, Contemplative Vision: A Guide to Christian Art and Prayer can greatly assist. What I present in it is a series of guided meditations on Biblical passages and Christian art that have been based on them. Any of the meditations would be suitable, but after reading and reflecting on the introduction and first chapter, which present a discussion of the role of seeing and awareness in Christian spirituality and which would form an excellent focus for the first week of Lent, five are particularly well suited to Lent and could each serve as a focus for the next five weeks - Chapters 2, 3, 10, 9 and 12. Following them in this order they would lead you through a focus on Jesus’ preparation for ministry, relationships with others, journey to Calvary and death on the cross.
To enter into these meditations, I would suggest that after a moment of silent prayer, you read the text aloud, slowly and prayerfully. Do this several times leaving lots of reflective space. Then look at the piece of art that was based on this text. Again, don’t rush. Allow yourself enough time to really see it, and to notice what you sense and feel. Notice what God might be saying to you through the art, and how the art leads you back to the Scriptures. Then, slowly read the chapter in the book that brings together the art and the passage, moving your attention back and forth from the painting to the commentary. Then spend some time with the reflective questions at the end of each chapter.
When you have finished, take time to thank God for the gifts you have received. And think about how you want to respond to them. You might, for example, decide to respond in some creative way. But whether it feels creative or not, simply make your response your own, and do respond.
Spending some time in each of the six weeks of Lent in this way will unquestionably prepare you for Easter. But beyond this, it will prepare you to walk more closely with Jesus - more attentive to his presence and attuned to the realities of his incarnation. In short, it will help you know Jesus and it will deepen your relationship with him. If this is what you desire, consider this as part of your Lenten journey this year.