The Penance of Noticing

Jesus working as a young man

Work can be a daily ascetical practice

In the past I have offered some creative ways of approaching the Lenten “fast”. In addition to giving up something, we often hear the alternative of taking something on, kind of like a Lenten new year’s resolution. These are all fine, but I want to offer another twist to Lenten penance.

What images come to mind when you hear the word penance? Penance usually gives us negative images in our mind. We think of Jesus fasting in the hot dry desert for 40 days (which is what Lent commemorates). We may also think of ascetical practices like putting pebbles in our shoes or self-flagellation. But the word penance comes from the Latin word for repentance and when the Bible uses the word repentance it usually carries a meaning of changing our attitude toward sin.

A change of attitude means a change of orientation. Lent is a time to develop ourselves so we come out on the other side (Easter) more prepared to avoid sinful tendencies and habits that are not life-giving and that do not bring us closer to God. Ascetical Lenten practices actually help us in this. But no one’s suggesting self-flagellation or walking a mile on your knees. In fact, asceticism actually means to train or exercise, as in training like an athlete; it’s not about self-denial.

parenting crying baby

Here’s my suggestion: Take a look at the ascetical practices that already happen every day, those little things that offer the opportunity to build spiritual strength. Parenting may be one – how does parenting help you “train”? Maybe you have a long commute like me – does it give you time to grow closer to God at all? Tough relationships are also opportunities to exercise charity and love of neighbour. Even cooking for another can be considered an ascetical practice if it helps you develop your love for others.

Asceticism happens every day. Part of finding God in all things is noticing the little daily opportunities to change our attitude toward sin and bring us closer to God. It’s the penance of noticing.

>> Some more ideas on Lenten practices or read other Lent themed posts.

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Music by Kevin MacLeod

2 replies

  1. Ok, I am at work & read this. I see all the opportunities. I think for me noticing and changing my attitude is going to help. At home too. All those times when I have a chance to be kind or maybe just be silent might make me see things differently. I am looking for lots of healing this Lent, especially in relationships. I am glad that I have this chance to notice and change some things. GREAT POST!

  2. This is a great suggestion, particularly as I am a teacher in the throes of grading stacks of essays (talk about a penitential exercise). Maybe this Lent I can try to approach them in a new way. As you said, it’s about noticing what is already there. Thank you.

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