Suggestions for Lenten Observances


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“I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God's holy Word.” 

-- Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p. 265

Self-examination and repentance: 

See “Self-Examination” from St. Augustine’s Prayer Book here.

Answer John Wesley’s 22 questions each day here.

Practice the spiritual exercise described on page 86, para. 1 in the Big Book of AA. You can access the book online at here.

Emotional health and spiritual health go hand in hand. Go through the One-Way Relationships Workbook. You can order it here. Or, try The Emotionally Healthy Church Workbook here.

You can do either book as an individual or with a group.

Do the 12 Steps. Apply them to your life as appropriate. Get a copy of The Good Shepherd Guide to the Steps. Read the Introduction; work your way through the booklet. Ask help or advice where you need it. It works.


Fast:  types of food and/or drink, Internet activity, Facebook, watching some/all TV, car radio/music, certain kinds of books, or magazines, eating out, etc. 

Fasting is most effective spiritually when the void you create by desisting is replaced with something worthwhile. For instance, I fast from lunch, but the lunch I would have eaten I give to someone else (see Isaiah 58 to see what kind of fasting pleases God). Give up reading People and instead read Proverbs. Instead of being a couch potato for three hours watching TV, exercise.

A form of fasting:  Memorize the St. Francis Prayer and try to live it each day. Especially ask God’s help and direction to (here’s the fasting part) seek rather to comfort, than to be comforted, to understand than to be understood, to love than to be loved. 

Another form of fasting: practice restraint of tongue. Don’t say or text the first thing that comes to your mind. Fast from negative or critical remarks about ANYTHING unless absolutely necessary.  Then, say something positive, reassuring, encouraging, etc. instead.

Be creative. How about: park a ten-minute walk from your office. Give that time to God for prayer or meditation—ten minutes walking to the office, and ten minutes walking to the car after work. 

Self-denial: instead of “me first” -- “other first,” “God first,” being of service

Take care of your body the way God would have you, not necessarily the way you may feel like.

Don’t buy anything you don’t need.

Come to church 20 minutes early and stay 20 later to help, to be of service. Introduce yourself, exchange numbers with a new person or family each Sunday of Lent. Clean up after the service and coffee hour. Help put away the things that were used to celebrate the Mass.

Help incorporate new members into our church. Invite them to your home for a meal, include them in an activity—movie, concert, beach, surfing, golf, hiking, biking, birding, spelunking, wild cow milking, Pellegrino ponging, etc.

Contact people you owe a “thank you.” We talk often enough of owing amends. Think over your life and see if there is someone who comes to mind that you really feel moved to thank for … whatever. It could be for something great or small. It could be a teacher from years ago. It could be a family member you see every day. Try it. 

Rest on the Sabbath. Stop. Just—stop. Find “Sabbath” times during the week. Pull over, literally or figuratively. Stop. Rest. Turn everything off. Remember: you’re a human being, not a human doing.

Prayer: Substitute. Pray at a time when you would have done something else. For example, take away part of Facebook time (or all of it) and replace it with praying the Psalms.

Memorize a Psalm or other prayer: Psalm 23, 103:1-13, 121, 124,; St. Francis Prayer; original (unabridged) Serenity Prayer here. Pray them throughout the day whenever you have a little free time. 

Start doing the Daily Office, which is easily accessed at this site: here. Once you get to that page, click on the picture and “just do it.” Please note: all the hymns and audio prompts are optional. The commemoration and commemorative prayers are optional. A lot of optional material is included following that. Here is what is essential after the commemoration material: Apostles’ Creed, Our Father, Suffrages, Collect for the Day, Prayer for Mission. That’s it. Personally, it wouldn’t feel complete to me without the Benediction and the verse from Scripture at the very end. Your move. Enjoy.

Meditation: See the guide to Step Eleven we have at church and read about Lectio Divina and start practicing it. 

Challenging, but worth the effort, is the Ignatian exercise known as the Examen of Consciousness. Learn about it here


Study: Renew the mind. 

Religious Books: Obvious choices: Brother Lawrence Practicing the Presence, Merton Seven Storey Mountain, Thomas à Kempis Imitation of Christ, Butler’s Lives of the Saints, books of the Bible along with a good commentary or study guide. Examples: read a chapter a day of the Gospel of John, or Proverbs. You can access them, along with commentary, at this site: here for John; and  here for Proverbs.

Incorporate into your daily readings material that is new and possibly challenging, like Chambers’ My Utmost for His Highest, here or The Sayings of Light and Love by St. John of the Cross here.

Read carefully the Good Shepherd handout Explanation of the Mass: Introduction, and Parts 1 and 2. 

Memorize a passage from the Bible. Don’t be daunted by the length. It’s Lent. You’ve got 46 days to do it. Try one of these. 1 Cor 13:1-13, Rom 8:35-39, Philippians 4:4-9. You can link to them here. So worth your time. People are always surprised at how transformational such a simple exercise can be.

Read Devotional Classics (the original edition from the early 1990s, which looks like this, not the revised one), ed. Richard Foster.

Another good read, which is also available as a daily devotional, is Abundant Living by E. Stanley Jones.

Novels: Brothers Karamazov, Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, That Hideous Strength, Kristin Lavransdatter, Wise Blood, Silas Marner, Pilgrim’s Progress, Diary of a Country Priest.

Movies: Have a movie night. Invite others or watch alone. If you Google “movie + title”, it will show you where the film is available.  

Obvious choices: Paul, A Man for All Seasons, Beckett, Diary of a Country Priest, Song of Bernadette, Flowers of St. Francis, Inn of the Sixth Happiness, Andrei Rublev, The Greatest Story Ever Told

Less obvious: The Decalogue by Kieslowski (insightful treatments, 10 one-hour episodes, of all the commandments in the context of contemporary life), The Matrix (plenty of New Age stuff, but also full of Biblical and Jesus-as-Messiah allusions), 3 Godfathers (1948, sacrificial love and redemption). Kurosawa’s The Idiot, his moving interpretation of the Dostoyevsky classic.

Even less obvious: Harvey (Elwood is a Christ figure—really), The White Sheik and I Vitelloni, (so much human frailty, so much falling short, but so much love and forgiveness, both films strongly anchored in family, written and directed with compassion for all the characters and leavened by comedy throughout. The Rota score for I Vitelloni is possibly the best and most soulful film score ever written.), Shop Around the Corner (the scene between the owner and the new kid in the store on Christmas Eve), Sullivan’s Travels and Hail the Conquering Hero (comedies written and directed by Preston Sturges that treat the human condition with compassion and affirm the real possibility of redemption), Ikiru (A man finally finds meaning for his life in the service of others. The great master Kurosawa directed and co-wrote.), The Search and A Child Is Waiting (I find both films deeply moving: parents and children, “Love is patient, love is kind. … Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”)

Music: Go to YouTube, put on your earphones, get comfortable, and listen: 

Kyrie eleison here

Listen to the last movement, listed as the fifth movement here, of Beethoven's 9th. Make sure to read the words as they are singing it. Inspired by the Pentecost experience? Think about it.

Listen to Handel's Messiah, read the words (and the score, if possible) as you listen. 

Bach’s Mass in B Minor, text here. According to Christianity Today, Bach’s Mass is reputed by some to be “the supreme cultural achievement of all Western civilization.”

Mozart’s Requiem Mass, text here.

All of the recordings I’ve linked above are considered masterpieces in their own right. 

Religious Art: Enjoy contemplating works by Giotto here, Fra Angelico here, Michelangelo here.

And The Ghent Altarpiece by Van Eyck here.

Do a search for “Howard Finster” and look at all the images. Some of his more famous paintings are: To the Olympics, Jesus delivers his people across the Jordan, American Devils — and his park, Paradise Garden. Do a google search for “Finster Angels” and check out all the images. So interesting, such fresh artwork (part of what is known as “Outsider Art”). Read his biography here. What a great story. (He also did album covers for Talking Heads and R. E. M.!)

Another great artist to search for is “Rublev.” Read about him. The Russian Orthodox have canonized him. Look at his art and by all means search for analysis of his works. One site shares an explanation of and a meditation on his renowned icon of the Holy Trinity here. Another site provides an interactive guided meditation on the same work here.


Whatever you do or refrain from doing this Lent, it should lead to improving your conscious contact with God, transforming you further, as you become even more like Jesus, in relation to yourself, to others, and to the world around you.