It’s Maundy Thursday, almost the end of Lent, we’ll start off with some reflections from psychologist Theresa Tisdale of Azusa Pacific University, who helps bring into focus the end (as telos, or purpose) of Lent. She offers rich insights on the transformative and redemptive power of Lenten practices, including the “Paschal Triduum”–The Three Days–starting Thursday evening to Sunday Evening. She notes the deep psychological and emotional and spiritual aspects of encountering these three days.
The Table: What is the meaning of Lent?
Tisdale: Lent is a season in the church year that begins with Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter. Some traditions include all the days of Holy Week; Roman Catholics end Lent when the Paschal Triduum begins on Holy or Maundy Thursday. The focus of these 40 days is repentance and historically prayer, fasting, and alms giving were the spiritual disciplines most emphasized during Lent. Lent is a journey of solidarity with Jesus and His 40 days in the wilderness when He faced trials and temptations. For Christians, it is a time that we are invited to face our sin and brokenness, confess, and receive the grace and forgiveness needed for transformation.
The Table: What do you read during Lent?
Tisdale: During Lent I read devotionals that have been part of my spiritual life for almost twenty years: Living Faith, Magnificat, One Bread One Body, Living With Christ.
The Table: How can the celebration of Lent change us? What is it about ritual and/or Christian liturgical life that transforms people? How do penance, fasting, and other Lenten disciplines conduce to psychological and spiritual well-being?
The celebration of Lent may change us because during this season of the church year we are invited to encounter God in deeper ways as we face and confess our brokenness and sin. Fasting from food or other preoccupying activities (e.g., social media) may reveal to us cravings, habits, and emotions that control us. We then have the opportunity to confess our need for God’s transforming presence and grace. Awareness, confession, repentance, and renewal brings relief and joy; our sin is no longer hidden and festering. Ritual and liturgical life provides us with regular rhythms (daily, weekly, yearly) of self-examination, confession, and repentance. Depending on the season of the church year the emphasis changes, but always invites us deeper into the heart and life of Jesus.
The Table: How do you (or your particular denomination) celebrate Lent? Are there traditions or liturgies or practices that are especially significant to you?
Tisdale: My Roman Catholic heritage celebrates Lent in numerous ways. Beginning with Ash Wednesday the tone and mood becomes somber as the season of reflection, prayer, and penance begins. The words “remember that you are dust and unto dust you shall return” provide a centering reflection on the temporal nature of this physical life. Fasting on Ash Wednesday and Fridays during Lent demonstrates a willingness to become aware of deeper longings and cravings that may reveal brokenness or sin needing confession and grace for renewal. Receiving the Sacraments of Confession and Holy Communion often is recommended as a means of encountering God and experiencing God’s transforming grace. Every Friday Stations of the Cross offers a devotional focus on 14 experiences of Jesus during the last week of His life. The Paschal Triduum (Thursday Evening through Sunday Evening) is especially significant to me. The focus on betrayal/agony, crucifixion/death, waiting, and resurrection in many ways mirrors the rhythms of our life as over and over again: we face difficult days, events, or seasons that feel like betrayals and death; we wait (sometimes with hope sometimes with hopelessness) for something new to happen; a new birth or resurrection at last occurs. Many times our desperate, whispered prayer may be: “oh God, turn this tomb into a womb…”