An Extended Awareness: Some Thoughts on Lent

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I.

I didn’t grow up observing Lent.  Perhaps this is your story too.

Over time I have come to believe that Lent is an extended awareness and a reminder that life isn’t only about Me and Mine.

The word Lent is old English meaning to lengthen. It comes in the spring as the days begin to stretch and elongate.

Traditionally during the forty days of Lent people give something up and there are lessons learned.

I’ll confess to only dabbling with Lent and usually not making it through to forty days, sometimes “giving up” chocolate or some thing that is more of a sacrifice like caffeine. Once or twice I remember giving up alcohol. (That one didn’t last!) Other times I chose sugar or carbs. Turning it into more of a diet. Thinking maybe I can be “spiritual” and lose weight at the same time. The most pious customarily give up eating anything made of the fat from blood animals.

Abstaining at Lent may be an epochal moment in your spiritual journey—changing your spirit and body forever.

2.

The act of giving something up forces a complete revaluation of self.  Suddenly life is not about our incessant self-satisfaction. Bringing a reconnoitering of what is Mine and what is Ours, etching on our soul an openness to greater generosity and community.  Hopefully one comes to understand the idea that restraint or curbing of the Self is as important as satisfying Self.

As the years go by, I have come to understand more fully that this experience of sacrifice and repentance could be an important part of what it means to be a spiritual person.

And we join an ancient tradition in religious history that is thousands of years old.

III.

The Lenten fast is a part of the liturgical church’s calendar but that doesn’t mean evangelicals need not engage in this important spiritual tradition. Knowing that it is coming up, I wanted to learn more about this Church tradition.

Observed over the forty days before Easter, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  It is traditionally a time of fasting and reflection.  The last week of Lent is Holy Week.  Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts, is a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as it is the last chance to feast before Lent begins.

I found it interesting that in order to not waste food, families have a feast on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday to eat up the food that would spoil in forty days.  The need to eat up the fats (meat, butter, eggs and milk, etc.) is where the French name Mardi Gras (‘fat Tuesday’) came from.  Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday because they are a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with the addition of flour.

But background should not trivialize out awareness of what this sort of fast might bring to us spiritually. Our bodies and spirits being connected. When we gorge ourselves day-to-day We (the wealthy among us that is.) aren’t as aware of our immense spiritual needs.

IV.

I have been in a long-drawn-out icy season of grief. Not a loss specifically, but a suffering that life sometimes brings; which I have written about elsewhere.

I know intellectually that this dark season cannot possibly stay forever, and joy will come.  At least I’m hoping it isn’t permanent. Hoping for healing or at least some movement toward healing.  More days than not over these two years (and this decade) life has been filled with depression, fear, anxiety, sorrow and more recently grief.  All internal.  All inside me.

If you are lost in a Long Winter of Grief, how do you step into the extended awareness and lingering of Lent? When you feel brittle and bent like a reed how do you find Belief again? 

All I can reason out is that it is important to make a choice to lay aside this cloak of grief. Though it is obviously not an actual physical entity, some days it feels weighty. Like a somatic struggle of an Other, it is on me, pulling at my flesh and spirit.

The wise and brilliant Joan Chittister says Lent is a growing season.

It doesn’t happen to us. She says, “It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey…”

Perhaps what we need annually on this faith walk is to confront our absorption with Self, which is “conscious and purposeful.”  If it is a growing season as Chittister says, this must help us handle the rest of our life.

V.

Our lives in the West have become so trivial and pedestrian. We go about them mostly focused on our own pleasures (Or am I the only one?)  Perhaps in this next season, whether you fast for Lent or run in the green grasses of Spring or simply experience a greater awareness of life’s renewal, ask yourself–what’s important?  Perhaps renew your commitment and passion to that over these coming days.

So, out of a need to declare the end of This Thing Grief. Or to grow into what it means To Carry Grief On, if that is required. I have chosen to take up a fast over the forty days of Lent.  I anticipate a great internal struggle, the voice of Self telling me I cannot make it. And even as I fight inertia and hunger and disbelief, I choose to believe in what I cannot see.  I resolve that I will find something that I don’t yet have words for and cannot explain.

In the end that is Faith.

Isn’t that all each of us can do? To remain Open, Extended and Aware in this season of longer Light and Hope.  For life is not all about joy.  It is also about the power to endure and to Believe.

Sources:

National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 23, 2001. See more.

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister (Thomas Nelson)

–I also read this from BBC.

In 2014:

Shrove Tuesday is March 4th
Ash Wednesday is March 5th
Lent is March 5th – April 19th
Holy Week is Apr 13th – 19th
Maundy Thursday is April 18th
Good Friday is April 19th
Easter is April 20th

Other things I’ve written about Lent.

Lent: My agenda or God’sPerfect Practice: A Poem; To Lent or Not to Lent: That is the Question; What is Lent Anyway, Besides Strange; {Lenten Series: Winter Slowly Recedes (Poem)}; {Lenten Series: If You Were Homeless}; A Prayer For Lent; {Lenten Series: Thou Mayst in Me Behold}

Perfect Practice (A poem about Lent)

Practicing lent

sounds slick. My gift,

heart-full-of-pride. My rituals,

my restriction, my sacrifice.

Then I throw out my arms, open-handed.

Looking up,
giving up.
Let go, let up.

Incarnate,

the One who comes
have me. I let go,

practicing lent.

To Lent or not to Lent, that is the Question

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After spending the evening watching the Grammys and tweeting my snarky thoughts, last night my dreams were in Tweet format.  Needless to say it was a long night. And when I woke this morning I was more than a little disturbed by it.

I got to thinking about technology’s power in my life.

Earlier this week, I read an article by Albert Borgmann on the subject of Taming Technology. For Borgmann, philosophy is a way of taking up the questions that live at the center of everyday life — questions that are urgent but often inarticulate. The philosophy of technology, which has been the principal focus of his work since the mid-1970s, is about bringing to light and calling into question the technological shape and character of everyday life.  How do we gather technological devices together into the good life?  How does technology shape a way of life?  It is an interesting article.  You should read it.

Lent is coming.

For Christians, the 40 days (plus Sundays) of Lent — the time between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday — is a time for reflection, renewal, and rededication.

But Lent has been a part of the Church life from the 2d Century on, and it’s a discipline and a season worthy of the entire Church. What is Lent? Essentially it is a time of preparation. As during Advent we prepare to celebrate the Advent of our Lord, so during Lent we prepare to enter in and participate in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In other words, it is a time for us to recollect our minds and hearts toward the saving events of our faith. The Church Calendar is designed to keep our lives connected week by week to the life of Jesus. — Scot McKnight

I’ve written about Lent before and have some links below. Many Christians don’t participate in Lent or take it lightly; perhaps giving up chocolate or caffeine as way of depriving ourselves.  But  Julie Clawson author of Everyday Justice and blogger at One Hand Clapping says about this most misunderstood event: “Lent isn’t about denial, it is about transformation. It is the season in which we prepare to encounter Christ’s sacrifice by endeavoring to become more Christ like ourselves. ”  (Emphasis mine.)  I could not agree more.

In preparing for Lent, I sometimes ask myself:

  • Is there a habit (or even a sin) in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of my loving God or loving others?  Ask God to get a hold of that habit over the next 40 days and help you have the discipline to give it to him, forever. 
  • Is there any one in my life with whom I need to pursue forgiveness or reconciliation?  This may take longer than Lent.  Here is a poem that I wrote during a time of profound grieving, knowing that I had done and said something that I thought was unforgivable. It’s titled  Longing for Mercy.  Ask God to begin to work in you and in the other person to ready you both for reconciliation in God’s perfect timing. 
  • What am I willing to give up to carve out extra time for daily contemplation and listening for the season of Lent?  
  • Lent begins  next week, on Ash Wednesday, leaving time to ask God to show you what you need to stop doing to have more time with him.  

I’m seriously considering letting go of Facebook for Lent.  It often makes me anxious and confused and I wonder about its power over my mind and heart.  Could I just let it fly away into the abyss  of cyberspace for forty days and see what other more meaningful things I can fill it up with?  I don’t know yet.

A Pastoral Word from Dr. Mark D. Roberts:

Let me note, at this point, that if you think of Lent as a season to earn God’s favor by your good intentions or good works, then you’ve got a theological problem. God’s grace has been fully given to us in Christ. We can’t earn more of it by doing extra things or by giving up certain other things in fasting. If you see Lent as a time to make yourself more worthy for celebrating Good Friday and Easter, then perhaps you shouldn’t keep the season until you’ve grown in your understanding of grace. If, on the contrary, you see Lent as a time to grow more deeply in God’s grace, then you’re approaching Lent from a proper perspective.

 This is a good reminder.  What about you?  Do you take part in Lent and if so how has this been a powerful event in your life? Or not?

MH

A clear and powerful description of Lent  by Dr. Mark D. Roberts , Senior Adviser and Theologian in Residence of Foundations for Laity Renewal, in the Hill Country of Texas outside of San Antonio.

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Other things I’ve written on Lent:

Though Mayest in Me Behold

A prayer for Lent

Lenton Series: Winter Slowly Receeds

Lenton Series: If you Were Homeless


What is Lent Anyway, Besides Strange?

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Lent is strange for those that don’t follow the tradition.  Or if followed at all it may mean giving up a vice for 40 days, an addiction to technology or caffeine or sugar, but not really knowing why.

That was true for me for many years.  If you grew up in an evangelical church like I did, you may not know that much about Lent either.

It is the period of fasting leading up to Easter to remember Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.  Like his fast, it is to be a time of sacrifice and listening.  Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends right before the evening service of Holy Thursday or Maundy Thursday, depending on your tradition.  This year Lent begins on March 9 in the Western Church.

For the longest time I was attracted to the idea of giving up a vice that had persistently bothered me, but I had no theological understanding of the tradition.  I think evangelicals are remiss in not teaching about Lent, which can be a beautiful and profoundly meaningful tradition of growing closer to God.

I think we miss out because we give things up but don’t replace them with anything.

The intended purpose of Lent is a season of fasting, penitence, and self-denial, but also of spiritual growth, conversion, receiving from and embracing simplicity.

“Lent, which comes from the Teutonic (Germanic) word for springtime, can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead.

However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”1

The aim in observing Lenten disciplines is to be changed as a person — body, soul and spirit!

Therefore there is more to it than giving something up, which I’ll admit for the longest time I thought was fairly impressive in and of itself.  I don’t do well without caffeine which is something I habitually gave up. Or sweets.  Yikes that one is hard.

As one endeavors to grow to be more like Christ and know him better, with the grace of God the tradition says you would be focusing on Fasting, Praying, Almsgiving (Charity or service) and Scripture.

  • Fasting: The Catholic Church requires its members age 18 to 59 “to fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, unless a physical condition prevents otherwise. This means only one full meal is permitted. The Fridays of Lent are days of required abstinence, meaning meat, and soups or gravies made of meat, are not permitted.”  This traditional way of fasting I have have never observed.  Giving up meat once a week or only drinking water for the 40 days is a way to remind ourselves of our abundance and to draw our attention to Christ’s sacrifice for us all.  And to be more conscious of how much we have.
  • Prayer: Lent is a good time to develop a discipline of daily prayer if you don’t have it already. Whatever it might be, the idea is to add the discipline of listening and seeking through prayer, whatever that looks like for you.
  • Almsgiving (Charity): While giving something up you are also to put something positive in its place. They say the best way to remove a vice is to cultivate virtue.  What might you do for someone else over Lent?
  • Scripture Reading: As he faced temptation in the desert, Jesus relied on Scripture to counter the trickery of the devil.  Growing up I was encouraged to memorize scripture, but today this rarely occurs in the Church. Memorize a section of scripture like the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.   Or if you are thinking of reading a whole book of the Bible promise yourself to read two chapters a day or finish a medium-sized book of the Bible by Easter.

Also, here is a wonderful compilation of books to read, rituals and fasts to consider, and meditations to read from Rachel Held Evans.

When it comes down to it, so often we don’t take the time to ask why we do a certain thing.  Why do I need to observe Lent?

I found Evan’s ten questions helpful to ask myself as I prepare for Lent.  But I winnowed and edited them down to three simple questions.

  • Is there a habit or sin in my life that repeatedly gets in the way of my loving God or loving others?

Ask God to get a hold of that habit over the next 40 days and help you have the discipline to give it to him, forever.

  • Is there anyone in my life with whom I need to pursue forgiveness or reconciliation? This is unlikely to happen in 40 days, but preparing your hearts for it — yes, that can happen if you ask!  Here is a poem that I wrote during a time of profound grieving knowing I had done and said what I thought was “unforgiveable.”  It is called Longing for Mercy.

 

Ask God to begin to work in your heart (and in the other person) to ready you both for reconciliation in God’s perfect timing.

  • What am I willing to give up to carve out extra time for daily contemplation and listening to God?  So often we allow life to press in and set our priorities and not decide for ourselves.  What is important?  Perhaps you need to get up an hour earlier during Lent to be with God? I started doing this in September and I can tell you that my life will never be the same.  I find myself craving that time and (most mornings) it is not difficult to get up.  You may need to go to bed earlier to do it.  I do!  Again a sacrifice, but well worth it in my experience.

Ask God to show you what you need to stop doing to have more time with him.

Ultimately we simply strive to live with the attitudes of humility, repentance and thankfulness.  I pray that you will be richly met as you seek to know Jesus better.

-mhh

A few things I wrote last year about Lent.

And if you’re more confused than satisfied with my post, here is a great description of Lent as described by Marcel & Sarah who have a blog named Aggie Catholics and lots of reading material.

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Other sources I used.

http://www.churchyear.net/lent.html

2 http://rachelheldevans.com/40-ideas-for-lent-2011

http://niv.scripturetext.com/matthew/5.htm