Growing up, my family listened to a lot of musical soundtracks, first on cassette tape and eventually on CD (either way, this dates me big time!). One of the staples in our house was Godspell. Composed by Stephen Schwartz and based mainly on the Gospel of Matthew, the show is structured as a series of sung parables concluding with the passion of Christ at the end. Let me tell you: I love this musical, and it has become a favorite tradition of mine to listen to it on repeat throughout Holy Week.
Though we are just beginning Lent and I have forty days before I reach my Godspell marathon, one of the songs — “Day by Day” — has been on my mind as I’ve been considering how I hope to refresh and deepen my prayer life during this liturgical season. In this musical number, the singer prayerfully calls out: “Day by day, O, Dear Lord, three things I pray: to see thee more clearly, love the more dearly, follow thee more nearly.”
I find myself hoping and praying for the same this Lenten season: to see the Spirit more clearly, to love God more dearly, and to follow Jesus more nearly.
With these hopes in mind, here are three ways that I’m planning to pray this Lent.
See the Spirit More Clearly: Prime Myself to be Aware of God’s Presence
Have you ever had the experience where you look up the meaning of a previously unknown word, and then as soon as you learn the meaning, you start seeing the word everywhere? Or similarly, you start looking for a particular product (such as shopping for a stroller while expecting your first baby), and now all of a sudden you notice strollers on every corner, whereas they never mentally registered before?
For me, starting my day with some sort of mind-opening prayer — usually in the form of reading a devotional, reflecting on a quote or passage of Scripture, or listening to a guided meditation — primes me to recognize the movement of the Spirit throughout the rest of my day. God is a consistent presence in my life, and the Spirit moves regardless of whether or not I’m paying attention, but I believe that there is great value in paying attention and in seeing more clearly the ways God acts in my life.
Follow Jesus More Nearly: The Stations of the Cross
The Stations of the Cross is a centuries old Catholic devotion that recalls 14 significant moments in Jesus’ last day on earth as a man. Beginning with his condemnation and ending when he is placed in his tomb, the Stations invite us into these tender, painful and deeply human end-of-life-events and invite us to pray and meditate on the words and actions of Jesus and his disciples.
As followers of Jesus, the Stations not only reveal to us God’s great love, they also have valuable lessons to teach us on how to follow in Jesus’s footsteps and live a life of humility, peace, and mercy. I pray the Stations in part to take these lessons into my core. By remembering how Jesus died, I learn to live.
The Stations can be prayed in community (many parishes offer Stations of the Cross services on Fridays throughout Lent), individually in a church or with a book or app (if you pray in a church, you can walk through the artistic depictions of the Stations that your church likely displays on its sanctuary walls) or with your family, using a deck of prayer cards like these.
Love God More Dearly: Just Be with God
As you may notice from the first two ways that I’m planning to pray this Lent (and from other posts I’ve written in the past), I tend to gravitate towards forms of prayer and worship that are heavy on the head front. I like to read devotionals, listen to sermons, and write out my thoughts and prayers through journaling. While there is nothing wrong with these forms of prayer (I firmly believe that God reaches us anyway God can, from the intellect to the emotions), sometimes I do get the sense that I should give my brain a break and lean into some more heart-centric forms of prayer. That’s why, with the intent of growing my love for God, I plan to meditate silently on images of Jesus in his passion throughout this season. In my experience, art has the power to transport me across eras and areas and it opens me up to a connection with God that goes beyond words.
I would love to hear from others: how are you planning to pray this season? And do you find yourself leaning more towards heart or head prayers?
May this Lent be one of growth and grace for you. May you the Spirit more clearly, love God more dearly, and follow Jesus more nearly, however that looks in your personal situation.