Contemplating“Contemplation” (photo: Kasia/Flickr cc by-nc-sa 2.0)

Ash Wednesday is today, inaugurating this year’s season of Lent. Cultural customs dictate “giving something up” for Lent. Without any meaningful or theological reflection, it becomes “giving up for the sake of giving up,” as though the mere act is enough. Is there more to it than just giving us something to talk about and a way to feel good about ourselves?

Perhaps a more faithful practice is to connect an act, or the abstinence from an act, with our longing for God. Give up Facebook, and all that may happen is that other chores fill in that time the way the ocean fills our sandcastle moats; the castle eventually falls, and there’s no trace of our intention left. Give up chocolate, and all that may happen is that we fill our mouths with Skittles or our minds with obsessing about chocolate. Neither connects us with the grace of God, present every moment.

If our intention is to remember our efforts and our strivings cannot save us, it would be better for us to do nothing, and do it often, these six weeks. Stare out the window at creation. Hold a warm cup of tea and sit. Waste an hour doing absolutely nothing. God fills the emptiness that comes. In a culture that measures our worth by the length of our daily accomplishments or the volume of our inbox or how scheduled our days, how countercultural would it be?

To commit to doing nothing. It takes practice to build up the tolerance for non-productivity. Who are we if we are not working? What are we here for if we do nothing? Where is God, and what does the Divine expect for us and from us? What about this invitation for Lent: for a set number of minutes every day, do nothing. It’s more of a sacrifice than we realize, for we are sacrificing what defines us and what gives us life. Perhaps then we will discover the power of grace that comes in every breath.

Amy Ruth SchachtAmy Ruth Schacht is a pastor at Laurel Presbyterian Church in Maryland.

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If I can humbly rephrase the caption, it would read : empty your mind be filled with Grace and Be Grateful.

Thank you. I needed this.

"It is the nature of Grace to fill the places that have been empty." - Goethe

What good advice.  Gratitude and stillness are the best antidotes to zealous ambition, the right choices for soul soothing.  I just forwarded this to a friend.  Thank you for posting it. 

Wonderful article. Thank you!

Our rector suggested today that we also do nothing for Lent - ten minutes of nothing a day. Ten minutes to sit and experience the presence of the Divine. This makes more sense to me than anything else I have heard. As a mother of three young children, I often talk myself into thinking I don't have time for things, but the truth is that we all have time for the things we make important. 

After agonizing over my weaknesses, I read this, poured myself a glass of wine, and did nothing. Happy Ash Wednesday.

You are amazing....I totally agree! I have never encouraged our kids to give anything up for Lent, but rather do something good...this is so much better. peace
Kathy and Stew

That is a wonderful idea.  I just may do that.  Make space for something other than thinking thinking thinking, doing doing doing. It's exhausting.

 not to speak for the author but the emptying traditions of Lent are often not about making connections but about making way for, as Meister Eckhart taught:
“To be full of things is to be empty of God. To be empty of things is to be full of God.”

Thanks, I like this very much.

Thanks....such good ideas so simply put. Something I am working with too.

What a lovely meditation. I often joke with my sisters that during Lent, I agree to give up all hope, but that is tongue-in-cheek. I like this idea of being still. "Be still, and know that I am God." That is a more meaningful, meditative, inner-oriented way of clearing out what is superfluous and even distracting in our minds and spirits. Thank you

 what Lenten tradition teaches that you are God? that's an interesting gnostic kind of take as most Christian traditions are exactly the opposite.

"Be still and know that I am God. I will be exalted above the nations. I will be exalted above the earth" (Psalm 46:10).

I think it's from God:  "Be still!  Know I am God"

what a precious gift, to be idle and love; as water turns dust into soil, the idleness nurtures our thirsting spirits. allowing love to grow.  thank you for sharing, Amy.

I am in a transition stage, My hospital will be finished by june in the meantime i have very little work. once I open, I wont have any time to 'be'
when my mind feels poor, i have to pinch myself. it may be a pleasure to be poor and play with my cats, call friends and family, read poetry, watch bill moyers, be awake for Kristas interview at 7am on a sunday 

The traditional purpose of Lent is the penitential preparation of the believer—through prayer, penance, repentance, almsgiving, and self-denial. Its institutional purpose is heightened in the annual commemoration of Holy Week, marking the Death and Resurrection of Jesus, which recalls the events of the Passion of Christ on Good Friday, which then culminates in the celebration on Easter Sunday of the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.

just what i need as i prepare for a new journey/adventure in my work life!
everyday i keep reminding myself to de-fixate!!!!!!
just be in the stillness of the presence of the holy spirit.
i might just learn something.
thank you:-)

I wish to agree with the non-act of doing nothing for periods of time, connecting to yourself and God.  However, the world is in a place and time where action is also needed.   Put your thoughts to good use, connect your heart with your body and perform an act of kindness or giving.  This too is  the the intention of Christ.

I'm Catholic, and this is what I do at Adoration.

Some time ago I was working at a Mathematics Institute and one of the doctoral candidates was from the Eastern Orthodox tradition.  When I asked him to explain the differences between the types of fasts, he told me that he was always being asked about fasting.  He then said that ALL fasting is about modesty.  It changed forever my view of the idea and practice of "the Lenten sacrifice".  I now look at Lent as an opportunity to walk in modesty and humility--a time to reset my spiritual clock.  It isn't about self-inflicted deprivation.  It is about a return to simplicity, humility, quiet, by living more modestly and more humbly for a season.