Part of the history of Fat Tuesday involves going through the house to collect things. Fat, in particular, but also other rich, rather luxurious, ingredients were gathered up for pancakes or other feasting that could use up what would otherwise tempt during the Lenten fast. Or so I was taught.
Without going into the benefits and biblical encouragement toward fasting and other forms of discipline, I’ll simply offer you this one. That’s right, here is an idea for a Lenten writing exercise.
Instead of collecting all the juicy bits that churns within—or instead of seeking or wallowing in passion—collect externals. Not just any externals, mind you, but those which, in themselves, discipline us in body and soul: the Word of God. There is no greater Lenten discipline than digesting and submitting to the Word of God. And, to make it foundational and formational as a writing exercise, let’s consider the historic form of prayer, the Collect.
The Latin term originally may refer to people collecting for worship, but collect has become a term for a specific prayer that collects the prayers and prayer requests of many into one. The structure is consistent:
- Invocation or indication of the person of the Trinity address
- Acknowledgement or description of why come specifically to Him who receives our prayers
- Petition, typically “in the tersest of language” (according to Wikipedia and a book on the Roman Catholic mass from 1912).
- Desired result
- Conclusion /Plead that this be done on behalf of Christ.
Language-wise, here are two abbreviation:
- Father, who x, do y that z, for Jesus’ sake!
- Jesus, You x. Y! In order that z.
That first example is purposefully a single sentence, which is the Latin style. And, if you think about it, we only come to God in prayer because He has already promised to listen. That is one sentence’s worth, admittedly a very full and profound sentence.
Now let’s consider it in collect form: The Triune God (1) hears us (2), so we pray (3) in order that He hear us (4) according to the promises fulfilled in Jesus (5)! The structure is a beautiful explanation of, frankly, a whole lot of Christian life! That sentence may not be a prayer itself, but it directs us first to God and His revelation by the Word and only then to us, after we’ve been given perspective.
For Lent, consider keeping a prayer journal. Meditate and pray within, and write a collect. Summarize why you pray specifically to God. Summarize what you seek from Him, but also consider yourself in the perspective of Scripture. Look outside yourself. Consider the needs of others and the prayer requests you’re exposed to throughout the day. Try to roll all the prayers into one that you write down.
By all means, use the collects written by others to inform or guide you. We are not in prayer alone, but as members of the One Body, the Church! Still, I expect you will find it helpful, insightful, and devotional to use the form with your own words and expressions.
If you want to repeat a prayer? Does that count as a writing exercise? You don’t need my permission. Repeating prayers has been common throughout, I don’t know, all time and space forever and ever? Mind you, angels repeat their songs and praises all the time. The eternal God is not always looking for something new.
Historically, every Sunday is a celebration of the Resurrection, so Sundays are not considered fasting days. Each Sunday has a collect, anyway, so listen to it in church. Receive God’s gifts rather than offer your own, and reflect upon the prayer and the God who does so much on our behalf.
Actually, if you just want to pray collects, rather than write them, every day that’s a great Lenten discipline, too. There are collects in the Lutheran hymnals (and I do suggest everyone have a hymnal in the home), in the Treasury of Daily Prayer, and in books like A Year in the Old Testament: Meditations for Each Day of the Church Year (Also available for the New Testament.).
Instead of dwelling first on ourselves, let’s dwell on Him who is unlike any other and has done the greatest of feats because of His mercy and His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ. Come, Lord Jesus!