Seeking God during Lent

Mountains of thick, rich pancakes. With real maple syrup. Maybe some fruit compote and whipped cream on top. What could be better?

When I was in seminary, my teaching congregation in Davis, California, had a pancake dinner every year for Shrove Tuesday, also known as Fat Tuesday, aka the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday.

Celebrating in the week before Lent was not something I remember doing as a child. We didn’t gorge on special foods before Lent; we didn’t celebrate with Mardi Gras masks. It wasn’t part of the cultural milieu.

In seminary I began to appreciate the importance of rituals—sacred and ordinary—and how rituals can draw us closer to God. I also began to appreciate how Lent didn’t need to be all about somberness. God does, after all, invite us into a loving, caring relationship and does not make us attend a dull 40-day lecture series so that we can be jubilant on Easter.

I was so excited to talk with April Yamasaki in the fall of 2011 about her manuscript concept. She had a vision for creating a book that would call readers toward experiencing God through a variety of different spiritual practices.

April wanted to help people slow down in the midst of everyday life and find personal renewal. (And even as I was talking with her my desk was probably scattered with endless papers, and I no-doubt felt frayed around the edges.)

April serves as lead pastor of Emmanuel Mennonite Church in Abbotsford, B.C. She has published numerous articles and several books, including Remember Lot’s Wife and Other Unnamed Women of the Bible and Making Disciples, a manual for baptism and church membership.

On February 1, April’s manuscript dream turned into a book: Sacred Pauses: Spiritual Practices for Personal Renewal. (Click on the link to purchase the book or learn more, or purchase the e-book from the Amazon, Kobo, or Nook stores.)

This is just the kind of book I need this year for Lent. I’m feeling frazzled this week, with a spouse out of town and a sick toddler who only wants to be held.

And yet in opening up the cover of Sacred Pauses, I know this book is for me. It’s dedicated to “all those seeking rest and personal renewal.” Yes, please. I could use that this Lenten season.

The first chapter is about “creating space,” then “slowing down,” and later “being alone without being lonely,” “paying attention,” and “having fun.” In all, the book outlines 18 different spiritual practices. April encourages readers to:

Use this book in any way that works for you. Try it as a daily personal retreat, reading one chapter a day, six days a week, for three weeks. Or scale back, and read through the book more slowly, section by section. If you skip a day or a week or a spiritual practice, don’t berate yourself for a lack of discipline or spend time feeling guilty. Instead, simply pick up where you left off, or give yourself permission to skip that part or combine it with the next.

I am looking forward to delving into Sacred Pauses this Lent. I likely won’t be working through one chapter a day, for six days a week. My pace will be slower. And I’ll kick it all off with pancakes this Tuesday.

Join me on this journey during Lent. Leave a comment here with your name and let’s hold each other accountable as we seek new connections with ourselves, others, and God this Lent.