Lent is booming as a spiritual practice. Come along!

Even evangelist Shane Claiborne says that Lent is an essential part of the Christian year. In the opening weeks of Lent, Shane Claiborne will return to the pages of ReadTheSpirit for a fresh interview about his own book, Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals—a guide to daily prayer that is circling the globe in all kinds of Christian communities. In his plain-talking style, Shane urges people to observe Lent each year because, “It is a good season to rethink how we live.”

Coming from one of Zondervan’s most popular authors—a preacher who draws big crowds in evangelical churches—that’s a major shift toward observing Lent. For many years, Lent was widely regarded by evangelicals as pretty much a “Catholic thing.” Of course, in this new century, Catholic parishes also are seeing a rise in Lenten observances. This trend makes sense in an era of turbulent change in our world. A return to spiritual practices—from praying daily to following the centuries-old traditions of Lent—is a journey that reconnects us with the timeless wisdom of our faith. That’s what writers like Claiborne and John Philip Newell are talking about as they circle the globe.


This sacred season recalls the heart of the Gospels that 2 billion Christians around the world regard as a sacred guide to living—so the diversity of our Lenten experience may seem surprising. Eastern and Western Christians sometimes converge on the same Lenten calendar—but this year they are one week different in their schedules. Western Christians start on February 22 in 2012; they count Lent’s 40 days as starting with Ash Wednesday but excluding Sundays; and Holy Week represents the final days of Western Lent. However, Eastern Christians, also called Orthodox, start on February 27 this year with Clean Monday; they traditionally count Sundays among their 40 days; and they are done with their 40 days of Lent before the week leading up to Easter. Just considering the differences between these two huge branches of Christianity—it’s obvious that the Lenten tradition of self expression is deeply rooted in this season.


Beyond the impact of voices like Claiborne and Newell, why is this season rising in popularity?
As a careful observer of religious life over the past three decades, and now as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I believe that Lent is the perfect Christian season for this 21st-century era of change, anxiety and spiritual transformation. Uncluttered by the commercial avalanche that has all but buried the Advent season that leads to Christmas, Lent retains much of its ancient religious potential.

University of Michigan sociologist Dr. Wayne E. Baker, in his landmark study “America’s Crisis of Values,” used the massive global waves of data from the World Values Survey to demonstrate the unusual nature of American religious values. Compared with other global cultures, Baker showed that Americans are unique: We are so overwhelmingly religious that we resemble countries like Iran in our spiritual intensity. But, when it comes to values concerning self-expression, Americans surpass Scandinavians in our zeal. We are people of deep faith coupled with an equally deep desire to freely share our religious experiences.


In such an era, Lent is the perfect, untarnished blend of religious tradition and spiritual adventure—ancient roots still blossoming in self-expression. Or, to put it another way, Lent is the Lord of the Rings of scriptural stories—a fellowship of men and women fearlessly summoning traditional knowledge as they make their way toward a dangerous encounter in a city where the fate of the world hangs in the balance. Yet, unlike J.R.R. Tolkien’s trilogy, each of us is invited to make our own Lenten pilgrimage each year. That’s how millions of Christians experience the season—preparing their hearts, minds and daily lives in fresh ways for this epic quest. Lent is a life-changing, personal and communal encounter with the sacred.


Now, many religious leaders are aware of Lent’s rising popularity and are helping men and women to make fresh connections with this life-changing season. Thousands of churches now distribute devotional books to help shape this epic journey. As we established ReadTheSpirit in late 2007, one of our first projects was the production of the book, Our Lent: Things We Carry. The first edition had a white cover.
For the 2012 Lenten season, we have revamped, updated and redesigned this book. The new edition has a gold cover. Today, take a look at our re-launched web pages for Our Lent, the 2nd Edition. You’ll find several inspiring stories to help you plan ahead for this year’s Lenten season.

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Originally published at readthespirit.com, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

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