"Habits and disciplines are formed through repetition. Thus, the ritualistic and repetitive nature of Christian liturgy allows us to engage God in a similar manner from Sunday to Sunday and day to day."
A trend is forming here: many of the thinkers we've grilled on Lent share a commonality: reading in the spiritual classics. There is wisdom in old ideas, old books, old traditions. Greg Peters is familiar with old stuff. As an historian of monasticism and spirituality in Biola's Torrey Honors Institute, he lives in the spiritual practices and ideas that carried Christianity through the centuries, passing them on to students seeking wisdom. And as the pastor of a local Anglican parish, he's working out the old ideas into a present community; seeing "the work of the people" (that's what 'liturgy' means!) come alive in people of all ages and diverse backgrounds.
The Table: How can the celebration of Lent change us? What is it about ritual and/or Christian liturgical life that transforms people?
Peters: Habits and disciplines are formed through repetition. Thus, the ritualistic and repetitive nature of Christian liturgy allows us to engage God in a similar manner from Sunday to Sunday and day to day. This repetition transforms us because it is habit forming. In short, our relationship with God becomes habitual and through this habit God does his work in us as we habitually come to him.
The Table: What do you read during Lent?
Peters: Each year I try to read a spiritual classic. In the past I've read Thomas a Kempis' Imitation of Christ, Augustine's Confessions, and George Herbert's The Temple and The Country Parson. This year I will be reading Gregory the Great's Morals on Job. For me Lent is about reading something that will form me spiritually, not just give me more knowledge. All texts can transform us mentally and spiritually but some are better than others in this regard.
The Table: What do you find historically, philosophically, ecclesiologically, or theologically fascinating about Lent?
Peters: All of the church seasons are in place for a purpose and Lent is not an exception. Lent allows us to prepare fully for the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If we know that someone is going to die then we want to prepare ourselves for this appropriately. Lent allows us to prepare fully for Christ's death–it does not allow us to rush to Easter, but makes us sit uncomfortably with not only Christ's death but our own mortality.
Greg Peters (Ph.D., St. Michael’s College, University of Toronto) is Associate Professor in the Torrey Honors Institute, Biola University, and Priest-in-Charge at Anglican Church of the Epiphany in La Mirada, CA.