Once upon a time, an ancient story tells us, the master had a visitor who came to inquire about Zen. But instead of listening, the visitor kept talking about his own concerns and giving his own thoughts. After a while, the master served tea. He poured tea into his visitor’s cup until it was full and then he kept on pouring.
Finally, the visitor could not bear it any longer, “Don’t you see that my cup is full?” he said. “It’s not possible to get anymore in.”
“Just so,” the master said, stopping at last. “And like this cup, you are filled with your own ideas. How can you expect me to give you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”
Lent is the process of emptying our cups. Lent is a time for trimming the soul and scraping the sludge off a life turned slipshod. Lent is about taking stock of time, even religious time. Lent is about exercising the control that enables us to say no to ourselves so that when life turns hard of its own accord, we have the spiritual stamina to say yes to its twists and turns with faith and with hope.
Lent is the time to make new efforts to be what we say we want to be. We applaud the concept in most things. We know, for instance, that even people who were married years ago have to keep working at the marriage consciously and intently every year thereafter, or the marriage will fail no matter how established it seems. We know that people who own businesses take inventories and evaluations every year or the business fails. We too often fail to realize, however, that people who say that they want to find God in life have to work every day to bring that Presence into focus, or the Presence will elude them no matter how present it is in theory.
—from The Rule of Benedict: A Spirituality for the 21st Century by Joan Chittister