Francesca Aran Murphy discusses the residual mind/body dualism that still haunts some familiar Lenten practices. We tend to think that Lent is about giving up our trivial “favorite things,” but in so doing we default to thinking that Lent is about giving up certain ideas.

Something more profound occurs in these 40 days, something that draws us deeper into our carnal nature rather than an escape from the flesh. Murphy discusses her experience of abstaining from meat on Fridays and what this means for the body’s grace:

Here’s the thing: the spiritual writers know that we are carnal creatures, and that we cannot skip that step in the ladder of ascent. When we try that, we’re aiming to leap up a step before we’re ready. We won’t make it. When we can’t make it, we will think of Lent—and possibly other disciplines as well—as a brief but necessarily failed resolution to do something impossible. You might say, rightly, anything is possible with the grace of God. But, why not let the grace of God work with your animal nature? Grace, as St. Thomas Aquinas taught, “does not destroy nature, it perfects it.” God’s grace works against our fallenness. But it does not eliminate our created human nature. It makes our natures whole. As carnal, embodied creatures, our desire to eat meat works in us at a more elemental level than desires for cognitive pleasures. Our carnality is at the rock bottom of what forms us as persons. Our fallenness, it goes all the way down too, so why not let God’s grace rebuild you from the bottom up?

And so the Collect of the Third Sunday of Lent with its emphasis on the body as well as the soul:

Almighty God, you know that we have no power in ourselves to help ourselves. Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts which may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen. 

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