Lent + Prayer Wheel = Aha. Finally.

“Oh crap” is what I am usually saying right about this time, the day before Lent begins. “What the heck am I going to do for Lent?”

I’ve done it all: given up meat. Given up chocolate. Given up TV. Given up unnecessary spending.

And then after many years of those small sacrifices I gave up the giving up, because it wasn’t “working” – it wasn’t bringing me any closer to God, however good it may have been for me on the self-improvement front. Lent isn’t about self-improvement; it’s about a journey to God.

But this year I actually know what I’m doing (for once), because that phrase “journey to God” is the whole focus of a book I co-wrote that’s being published next week.

The Prayer Wheel is all about returning to God, inching forward a little at a time.

What’s more, the wheel is naturally divided into sevens, so it’s basically custom-ordered for the almost-seven weeks of Lent.

Let me explain. About three years ago my friend David Van Biema invited me to join him and another mutual friend, Patton Dodd, in learning more about a medieval prayer wheel that had just resurfaced. You can read more about the wheel here (written when David was first researching the wheel and its history) and here.

Here’s what the original looked like, in Latin. It’s more than 900 years old, and worn with the smudges of praying fingers.

The Liesborn Prayer Wheel, ca. 1100


And here’s a streamlined modern version in English, which is also available at the end of this post as a free PDF download.

As you can see, the Wheel takes four basic Christian texts – the Lord’s Prayer, the Gifts of the Holy Ghost, scenes from the life of Christ, and the Beatitudes – and divides them into sevens. Then it mixes and matches those elements so they line up with each other in interesting and fruitful ways, with each path leading you to the center, to God.

Here is an example of one of the paths:

So, back to Lent. Each day during Lent, I’m going to be leading a really short devotion on one of the pieces of the wheel, moving each week one step closer to the center, to God.

This is going to be interactive, in the wheel’s Facebook group, so it’s not just me sending reflections out into the world. I want your thoughts and reflections and especially your prayers. I promise to keep each day’s devotion short, just a prompt to get us all a little further along on that path toward the center, toward God.

You don’t need to buy the book to get started; you just need a copy of the wheel so you can trace along it each day as we cover all its bases. So download that below and also click through to the Facebook group so you can join us for a couple of minutes of peace and reflection during the days of Lent.


Things you can do:

  • Join the wheel’s Facebook group here, and add your voice to the Lenten conversation!
  • Download the PDF starter sheet: Prayer Wheel to use for Lent.
  • Preorder the book here, if you like.
  • Read co-author Patton Dodd’s gorgeous personal essays here (“If I could stop praying, I’d be a good atheist” for Relevant magazine) and here (“A medieval prayer practice changed the Lord’s Prayer for me – and it might for you” for foxnews.com).
  • Read co-author David Van Biema’s “4 ways to kick-start your prayer life” in the Washington Post here.




  1. “Let us observe a fast acceptable and pleasing to the Lord.
    True fasting is to put away all evil,
    To control the tongue, to forbear from anger,
    To abstain from lust, slander, falsehood and perjury.
    If we renounce these things, then is our fasting true and acceptable to God.
    Let us keep the fast not only by abstaining from food,
    But by becoming strangers to all the bodily passions.”

    -Orthodox Christian hymn from the Triodion for the beginning of Great Lent.

  2. Strange, since a good Christian should be doing this 24/7 not just during lent.

  3. Lent flunks rigorous historic testing as passages such as Mark 1:13 lack sufficient attestations. e.g.http://www.faithfutures.org/JDB/jdb116.html. Just another guilt trip for the pew peasants and another means to give money to support a historical and theological corrupt Christianity.

    So where did Mark get this idea:

    Mythical Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai with God (Exodus 24:18)
    Mythical Elijah spent 40 days and nights walking to Mount Horeb (1 Kings 19:8)
    God sent 40 days and nights of rain in the great flood of mythical Noah (Genesis 7:4)
    The Hebrew people wandered 40 years in the desert while traveling to the mythical Promised Land (Numbers 14:33)
    Jonah’s fortune telling of judgment gave 40 days to the city of Nineveh in which to repent or be destroyed (Jonah 3:4).

  4. My understanding is that the first and foremost thing a person should give up for lent is the thing that is most appetizing, exquisite, gratifying, or yummy. So, the obvious first thing you should give up for lent is bigotry. But of course, I realize that won’t happen because, for you, giving up bigotry would be tantamount to committing suicide.

  5. Donuts, she’s giving up feckin’ donuts. FFS!!

  6. Agreed. But some grow lax; hence the fasting seasons to get them back on track.

  7. Jesus, being a Jew, knew all of those Biblical precedents, and fasted accordingly. He didn’t have to wait for Mark to get the idea.

  8. Jesus was an illiterate Jew so one wonders how much he knew about his religion.

    The illiteracy of the simple preacher man aka Jesus, as per some contemporary

    From Professor Bruce Chilton’s commentary in his book, Rabbi Jesus, An Intimate
    Biography, p. 99,

    “What Luke misses is that Jesus stood in the synagogue as an illiterate mamzer (pp.
    98-102) in his claim to be the Lord’s anointed”.

    Note:Luke 4: 16 is a single attestation. No where else in the NT does it say Jesus
    could read thereby making said passage historically unreliable. (Luke 4:16-24)
    has been compared to a number of other passage and found to be equivalent with
    the exception of Luke 4: 16 which is the only passage in the list of
    equivalents that mentions reading:


    31 & P. Oxy. 1.31

    (2) Mark 6:1-6a = Matt 13:53-58

    (3) Luke 4:16-24

    (4) John 4:44

    Professor JD Crossan notes that Jesus was illiterate coming from a landless peasant
    background, initially a follower of John the Baptist. e.g. The Excavation of
    Jesus (with Professor Reed), pp 30-31..

    The question of Jesus’s literacy has also been much discussed by the Jesus Seminar
    and others and they note that references in the Gospels to Jesus reading and
    writing may well be fictions.

    The only Gospel reference to Jesus writing is John 8:6 in the Pericope Adulterae,
    widely considered a later addition, where it is not even clear he is forming
    letters in the dust, and the Greek “εγραφεν” could equally mean he
    was drawing.

    Luke 2: 41-52, the twelve year old Jesus in the temple- As per Professor Gerd
    Ludemann in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 275, ” the episode is
    unhistorical” (again, a single attestaion). See also http://wiki.faithfutures.org/index.php?title=433_Jesus_at_Twelve

    It is very unfortunate that Jesus was illiterate for it resulted in many gospels
    and epistles being written years after his death by non-witnesses. This
    resulted in significant differences in said gospels and epistles and with many
    embellishments to raise Jesus to the level of a deity to compete with the Roman
    gods and emperors. See Raymond Brown’s book, An Introduction to the New
    Testament, (Luke 4:16 note on p. 237) for an exhaustive review of the true
    writers of the gospels and epistles.

    Of course, Muslims believe that Mohammed was also illiterate. This way, they can
    claim that the only way he could have received the “angelic”, koranic
    passages of death to all infidels and Islamic domination of the globe by any
    means, was orally since he could not read and write. And obviously, we suffer 24/7 from all that Islamic mumbo-jumbo.

  9. “As per Professor Gerd Ludemann…’the passage is unhistorical” (again, a single attestation)”.

    A typical example of bogus methodology.

  10. An overly broad question.

    But in the case of Ludemann and Crossan, that would entail rigorously critiquing the unspoken secularist/modernist presuppositions and assumptions which lie at the roots of their exegetical conclusions.

  11. Not even a nice try since you noted that you have read many of Professor Crossan’s studies.

    Rigorous historic testing relies on the number of independent
    attestations, the time of the publications, the content as it relates to the
    subject and time period, and any related archeological evidence.

    Your methodology relies on the word of five non-witnesses to the life of one illiterate peasant/rabbi who lived in the first century CE.

    With respect to NT related documents and time periods, the following review should be helpful. http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/

  12. “…since you noted that you have read many of Professor Crossan’s studies.”

    You comment makes absolutely no sense. How can one critique his method WITHOUT reading some of his writings?

    What you claim is “rigorous historical testing” is actually beholden to the unspoken secularist/modernist presuppositions and assumptions shared by Crossan and Gerd, which you NEVER address, and are probably not even aware of. Do you even have any idea how they influence their exegesis? Can you give me one single example of it? It doesn’t seem so, as you never acknowledge them. You do not even seem to be aware of the problem.

    I do prefer the testimony of what the Apostles actually saw and heard of our literate Lord to the imaginings of a pack of secularized “scholars” pontificating two millennia after the fact.

  13. The problem is that there is very little reliable testimony of your illiterate peasant rabbi but maybe you have found some that scholars have been searching for 2000 years. The best we can do is rigorous historic testing not only of M, M, L & J’ s gospels but any documents published prior to the information age .

    How goes the perusal of my latest reference to said NT related documents?

  14. Perhaps she really likes those donuts. Many folks give up various sweets, especially chocolate, for Lent.

  15. I was under the impression that Lenten sacrifices were to bring the worshiper closer to their god. Donut sacrifice can do this?

  16. Umm, it’s a capital “G” not a small “g”.

    The first thing we do for Lent is get the Name right!

  17. Nice example of not addressing the issue. I expected as much. Typical.

    Already familiar with your “NT related documents”. Many, like St. Ignatius of Antioch, St. Irenaeus of Lyons, the Shepard of Hermas, and Clement of Alexandria make good reading. Others, like Tacitus, Suetonius, and Marcus Aurelius also make interesting reading, but are only tangentially related to the New Testament.

    However, the dates. links and references given there are of highly uneven value, and many of the entries are sketchy indeed. How can the section on Marcus Aurelius not even reference Pierre Hadot?

  18. You are now becoming familiar with the documentation used by contemporary NT exegetes in doing rigorous historic testing of NT passages. Good for you. These exegetes are very specific in defining their methods and assumptions in the first chapters of their books . Unfortunately you threw out said books. Might want to visit your local library to get the answers you seek. Too many paragraphs to reproduce here.

  19. Proper nouns are capitalized, god is not a proper noun. Yahweh, however, is a proper noun.
    And is it really Lent if no one bothers to fast? My point being that my Muslim friends and shipmates who practice Islam actually fast during Ramadan. So, what gives with Christians skipping out on what they claim Jesus did for 40 days?

  20. Depends on the person. It isn’t ours to question someone else’s Lent.

  21. Yaweh is a made up name, it isn’t the personal name of God. Your Muslim shipmates capitalize Allah, Allah is God in transliterated Arabic.

    There are various forms of fasting. It isn’t yours to question how different faiths practice their faith or their fast. The Lenten fast, one of the oldest seasons in the Christian Church’s calendar, predates the Ramadan fast by a few hundred years.

  22. “You are now becoming familiar with the documentation…”

    RC, I became familiar with those documents about 50 years ago. I still read a number – like Lucian of Samosata and Marcus Aurelius – on a regular basis. Nice try though.

  23. They’re all made up names to be honest. Constructs created in effort to control the dialogue, thought, and behavior of the masses.

  24. Whether “god” is a proper noun or not depends on context.

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