Monday, February 15, 2010

How to get good out of Lent...

This from the March 1891 issue of "The Unitarian: A Monthly Magazine of Liberal Christianity," quoting and commending the approach to Lent advocated by Dr. Heber Newton (the Episcopal rector of All Souls Church, at least twice tried for heresy for his views of the Bible)


   Unitarians usually make much less of Lent than do their Episcopalian or Catholic brethren. Indeed, many do not observe it at all, having no sympathy either with the abuses which they see so widely prevailing in connection with its observance, or with the theology that prompts the same. There are some of our ministers and churches, however,—and we think an increasing number,—who recognize in Lent possibilities of good too valuable to be cast aside. They see in it a season which may be used to advantage by our churches for a quiet and healthful quickening of their spiritual life. To this end some of our ministers hold special services or series of meetings of one kind or another. Others have confirmation classes, or classes of the young for special religious study. Many impress upon their people the importance of making it a time for private self-examination and the deepening of the streams of their personal faith and practical beneficence.

Dr. Heber Newton, in the last number of his All Souls Monthly, urges upon his people some thoughts as to the true use of Lent that ought to commend themselves to all Christian people who care more for reality than for forms. With such an observance of the season as he proposes, none should be in more sympathy than Unitarians. Says Dr. Newton :—

"Lent returns to us once more. Shall we make a serious and systematic use of it, or shall we play with it in formal observances?

"Wisely and systematically to use it, let every one resolve upon these few points. First, let some special time be set apart for that which is crowded out of the rest of the year,—a chance for each one to be alone with himself. In the incessant round of social duties, always living in the presence of others, one is surprised at times to find how little of the year he really has had to himself and with himself. If Lent means anything at all, it means a retreat from the society of others to that best society which is found within every man. It may be well to know others: it is indispensable, now as of old, to know ourselves.

"That self which is within every man, if he will go far enough into the inner shrine of his being to find it, is always God. 'Know ye not that your bodies are the temples of the Holy Ghost?,' Into that inner and most holy place of the true temple we rarely enter. Is it any wonder that we are found so often asking, Where is God? 'Oh, that I knew where I might find him!' Turn within, and search. Never is a man alone with himself but that he is in the presence of God.

"Take up some book for systematic reading during the Lenten season,—some book that bears directly on the culture of character, on the inspiration of the inner life. Such books are, happily, in abundance. No one need look far to find them. Every one must have his own favorites in this line, or, if he has not, it is high time that he has found out such favorites. Take them down from the shelves, and read them again carefully. We need, every one, to be at home in the great classics of the soul.

"Order for yourself some real self-discipline. We talk much about it; but how little do we practise it! Even in minor matters it is well at such a season for one to seriously discipline self, if for nothing else, that he may have himself well in hand and strengthen his will, and may thus create habits of self-control which may serve him in good stead in some hour of temptation. It matters little what direction the disciplining take, so that it be a curbing of our desires and inclinations, a checking of our too easy self-indulgence, and the making of a fast, not for our stomachs, but for our sins.

"Let your children learn through this Lent to deny themselves in something of which they are fond, and bring the proceeds to offer at Easter. It will do them good, and be a means of doing good to others.

"Attend the special services that shall be ordered in the parish, and attend them as regularly as possible. Engage in some real practical bit of human helpfulness."
"He that ruleth his spirit is better than he that taketh a city."



David G. Markham said...

Dr. Newton has some good suggestions on how to observe Lent.

Whatever we do, it should make us more self aware in a way that brings us closer to God.

The monastic goal of "praying without ceasing".

Anonymous said...

Nice to see you back!