40 Days of Lent: Different Shoes, A Common Path

by Matthew B. Harper

Walking the Path:

an introduction

It is often said that you never truly understand a man until you walk a mile in his shoes. This is probably true, but it undervalues empathy and compassion; and it undervalues the gifts of God. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and creates understanding in our hearts for our brethren. My shoes are ones I would not wish on anybody; but even though we walk in different shoes, we walk a common path before God.

The walk with our Lord is a daily walk and a constant cycle of rebirth. It is a process of getting up every day and beginning again to walk the path that is put before us. It is a daily discipline of struggles and reassurances, of doubts and faith. It is a walk that grows easier with practice, but it never grows easy. During the days of Lent, I want to walk this path with you, and I am privileged to be invited into your walk.

Lent is the period of preparation. From the first time when the earliest Christians observed Lent, it was the time when the community brought in new brothers and sisters, taught them the ways of the Lord, and prepared for the Easter celebration. During Lent the new believers would spend the time studying and praying and on Easter morning they would experience their own resurrection just as Christ did. They would be baptized and share the communion for the first time.

Easter is what it is all about. As C.S. Lewis once said, “Without the resurrection, all that we do is in vain.” The resurrection of our Lord on Easter morning is the confirmation both of Christ’s divinity, and the triumph over death. It is a powerful declaration of God’s love and sovereign power over all of creation. Ours is an Easter faith, the faith in the redemption made possible by the resurrection.

I have chosen to write my devotionals during the period of Lent, because it is in the period of lent that I live. Lent is the preparation, the period of repentance, the period of learning. We begin lent on our knees marked by ashes. We bind ourselves with the marks of mourning, and make ourselves very mindful of our sinful and fallen ways. We observe lent through various ways of fasting and serving. We fast to set right our bodies and our urges, and we offer our service in grateful response to the grace given to us. Ultimately, in the Easter feast, we celebrate our own rebirth just as we remember our Lord’s.

The lives of prisoners are nothing other than parables of Lent. I was brought to my knees in mourning and repentance before the Lord. And just as my life is barren of the pleasures of life, it is nothing other than a type of fasting. This is a period of building up, a period of learning, and a period of service. The rebirth of these past many years is of God and is from the depths of my own soul and life. Years from now the day will come when I will walk free from this place and experience another kind of rebirth. My time here in prison is my own Lent, an in-between period of growth and repentance.

Lent is the hard part. We are born anew in Christ when we first come to repentance and cast our cares upon the Lord. We place our faith in the Lord, and we start down a new path. It is a walk that ends in Heaven, but one that is often difficult to walk. Lent is the humble and dark period, the dark night of our soul; and yet it is in the darkness that the light shines the brightest. We must learn from the Lord, and from the bible, and we must have the courage to follow the way The Lord leads. This is, for all of us, a daily struggle and a daily journey. We will fail at these tasks, and, as the Benedictine monks teach: “each day we must begin again.”

This is the hard part: to walk each day upon the path The Lord is leading us upon.

This is written for prisoners and free people alike. So your path may be very much like mine, or very different. But ours is a common path of discovery: a path of repentance, sanctification, and the uplifting and life sustaining power of God’s love. And if we walk in different shoes, that does not lessen our empathy or our compassion. We are simple brothers and sister, on a common journey.

I encourage you to approach Lent with reverence, and to observe it with fasting of some way. Maybe you need to fast from some type of food, from some type of addiction, from some pleasure, or some indulgence. The important issue is that you take some step to ensure that your walk is more as God intended it to be, and that you free yourself from any hold or addiction that the world might have on you. It is not that there is any great evil in any pleasure, for they too are gifts from God; but it is we who must be the master of our urges, and not our bodies. Periodically abstaining from things can, of occasion, help us to keep our lives in proper perspective. And if we choose to end our fast at Easter, then we will discover a new pleasure as we rediscover these gifts. So if your fasting is from chocolate or meat, cigarettes or sex, from television or books, I encourage you to observe Lent in this way.

But to follow in the ways of God is not just to put down, it is also to pick up. I encourage you to observe Lent by taking upon yourself the things that are of God. Maybe it is the daily study and devotion that we will do together, maybe it is the study of some other Christian learning (I recommend C. S. Lewis, Madeline L’Engle, Alister McGrath, Donald Miller, or Lauren Winner.) maybe it is some godly service that you are being called to do, maybe it is just that you need to learn to be kinder in your words and actions towards others. Whatever it may be, there are surely ways that you can allow God to build you up in your Christian life. I encourage you to take upon yourself some new discipline in your walk with Christ.

Lent is a time of spiritual journey, but part of that is about these practical steps. Our spiritual journey must be made manifest in our lives in some way. Ours is not just beliefs, it is also acts. We must live in the gratitude that Grace has given birth to in our lives. And it serves little purpose to be built up in the ways of God, if you do not do something with it. What point is it to learn if not to teach; why pray if not to intercede; why grow if not to mentor?

So I offer up to you what little wisdom and experience God has given me. I hope we can walk our journey together, and I hope my life can offer you insight into your own.

What follows are 48 devotionals: one for each day of Lent from Ash Wednesday until Easter, including the Easter Vigil. All scripture references are taken from the New Revised Standard Version of the Bible, but any good translation will suffice. I encourage you to read the Daily office readings, read the devotional, and then spend a few quiet moments in prayer meditating on what God is speaking to you on this day. At the end of each devotion are some words of prayer from the Book of Common Prayer (1979).

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