Lent as Life

Benedict looked at Lent as a chance for a little spiritual house cleaning and an opportunity for personal growth. In chapter 49 of his Rule, he maintained that our lives ought always to have the character of a Lenten observance: that is, devoted to prayer, restraint in what we eat and drink, avoiding other vices, and “compunction of heart” (or the moral scruples that prevent you from doing something bad and acknowledging it if you have). 

Ash Wednesday. Lent. Cross shape made of ashes. Christian religion

Realizing that few of his monks had the discipline and self-restraint for doing that as consistently as they should, Lent was a time for the brethren to “keep their lives most pure and at the same time wash away . . . all the negligences of other times.” 

Lent was also a time for study. At the beginning of Lent, the abbot gave a book to each monk that they were instructed to “read straight through from the beginning.” In an age of wide-spread illiteracy, reading was a practice that Benedict embraced, and studying the scriptures was something he required of all his monks. 

Most of all, according to Benedict, every act given to God during Lent should be offered “with joy of the Holy Spirit.” No long faces or martyr-like behavior during this holy season.

What should we give up during Lent? Michael Casey writes about compensatory attachments. When God is overlooked in one’s life, people often attempt to build their character around alternatives such as power, possessions, pleasure, or privilege [1]. Laura Swan states that the primary goal for the spiritual journey is detachment from these things, which leads to interior freedom. She writes, “Our goal is a life of abundant simplicity.” [2]

Isn’t devoting ourselves to prayer, reading, and giving up unhealthy behaviors a good thing to practice year-round? We don’t do this to earn points with God, but rather out of deep gratitude for God’s grace to us and obedience to a better way of life. 


Gracious God, thank you for the joy of your Holy Spirit and the grace that inspires me to resist harmful attachments and embrace those things that are good for me and bring joy to others. Amen.

Published by Stephen Isaacson

Stephen Isaacson is Prior of the Cornerstone Community, a lay Benedictine group within Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. He has served in many other roles in the Cathedral and is currently the Co-coordinator of Outreach Ministries at the Cathedral. Prior to his involvement with Outreach or the Cornerstone Community, Steve was Professor of Special Education at Portland State University, where he also served as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Education. During his career in academia, he authored a number of juried publications and instructional materials.

2 thoughts on “Lent as Life

  1. Thank you for your encouragement of a holy Lent. My favorite Lenten read is “40 days with Dietrich Bonhoeffer.”


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