I am writing this on Ash Wednesday, one of the more solemn days of the Christian calendar. It marks the beginning of the season of Lent, which will end on Easter Sunday. Lent is typically recognized as a time of self-examination, reflection, repentance, and sacrifice. Some Christians "give up" something during the season of Lent as a symbol of self-denial, sacrifice, and reliance on God.
Reflection and honest evaluation of oneself, for me, goes hand-in-hand with meditation. The Bible instructs us to meditate, to think deeply, on God's nature, his Word, his works, and his creation. For example, Psalm 1:1-2 says, "Blessed is the one...whose delight is in the law of the Lord, and who meditates on his law day and night." Also, the psalmist writes in Chapter 77, verse 12, "I will consider all your works and meditate on all your mighty deeds." My personal favorite verse about meditation is, "Within your temple, O God, we meditate on your unfailing love" (Psalm 48:9). There are other verses on meditation, but hopefully these will help you get the idea. Meditating on God is something that God asks us to do. I think the reason for this is fairly simple: whatever we think about becomes part of us, becomes written upon our hearts and stays at the front of our minds. The more we think about God, well, the more we think about God!
As Lent approached, my Bible study group started discussing the meaning of the season and how we could honor it and make it meaningful. Meditation has been an activity we had all done with various degrees of regularity, so I thought that perhaps there might be a special way to help us meditate daily through Lent, especially since we had been studying the topic more in-depth through the book, Habits of Grace by David Mathis. (Click here to read his article, "Warm Yourself By the Fire of Meditation.") I decided to create prayer boxes with some simple breath prayers inside.
The boxes that I started with were ones that I had ordered from Amazon. They are basically small metal boxes that are about the size that Altoid mints come in. You could also use small cardboard jewelry gift boxes (or any other small box), or even a regular white envelope. I painted the boxes first with white gesso to help prime the surface and then acrylic paint. I used scrapbook paper and cut out images to glue onto the top of the boxes and on the insides. You could also use personal photographs, magazine pictures, or simply paint an image on the top. I continued embellishing with small pearl beads, charms, and stamped images. On the inside of the lid, I included a Bible verse. The final step was to use glossy Mod Podge to seal the work and give it a shine. (The Mod Podge will also help protect from dirt and moisture. It also comes in a matte finish.)
Since the boxes were gifts, I made each one different for each of my three friends in the group. I am so thankful for these friends, their love, and support. We have all agreed that our group time has been tremendously important in our journey with God and each other. I thanked God for each one as I created her box.
A prayer box needs prayers, so I wrote 40 breath prayers--one for each day of Lent. I printed them out, cut them apart and tucked a set into each box. (If you would like your own copy of these prayers, along with a description of breath prayers and malas (prayer beads), please click here.) The boxes could also be used to hold scriptures, short prayers, or the names of people you want to remember in prayer.
To round out the prayer boxes, I strung a 108-bead mala for each friend, and made each one a bracelet with her word of intention for the year stamped on it. I modified the idea of an Easter basket, and put the gifts in a black pail, affectionately called a "Lenten bucket." (So if this catches on, you heard it here first!!) Vinyl stickers were used to put "Be still and know" from Psalm 46:10 on the front of the bucket. For me, that verse sums up the act of meditation.
Sometimes, Lent can seem like a dark and heavy time, especially as we ponder the significance of the suffering and crucifixion of Jesus; but as Christians in the 21st century, we know that Easter always comes, that light conquers darkness. Life conquers death, and love conquers hate. May your Lenten journey this year give you much wisdom and much joy.