This is a post that didn’t transfer over, so I’m reposting from the old blog here.  Enjoy!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

 

Lenten Practices–a personal reflection

Happy Shrove Tuesday!  Happy Pancake Day!  Happy Mardi Gras!  However you say it or celebrate it, it’s the day before Lent, a day of indulgence before turning to repentance–at least, that’s how it has been traditionally seen in secular society.  Traditionally this was a time when people cleared out the flour and sugar and all the things that would be forbidden to eat during Lent by making pancakes.  This was a day to indulge and drink because one wouldn’t during the next 40 days. 

Personally, I like to take today to reflect on what Lent means to me.

I didn’t grow up in a very liturgical church.  American Baptists like Advent and Christmas, and we’ll do Maundy Thursday and Easter but Lent is still not a widely-practiced tradition.  There are a lot of misconceptions about what Lent really is.  Lent comes from the Latin meaning “to lengthen,” referring to the lengthening of days in Spring.  Just like Christmas, Easter is also an adaptation from pagan traditions–the name Easter refers to Ishtar, the Persian spring goddess.  In other cultures and languages, the name used for this day is Resurrection Day–which makes much more sense as Christians than our English use of the term Easter.  However, I’m not advocating for a change in names or practices–simply an awareness of our how our traditions came to be.

Lent has long been associated with giving something up, a time of repentance, a time that seems dark and depressing, where one can not eat red meat, where one is not supposed to focus on one’s self but rather on God.  With this popular stigma, it’s no wonder that not a lot of Christians really like Lent.

However, as I’ve learned what Lent really means over the years, I have come to appreciate Lent the way I appreciate Advent–it is preparing me for Easter, preparing me for the joy of the Resurrection.

Lent begins on Ash Wednesday (tomorrow), a day that is marked by ashes and solemnity, which makes sense if one has been truly self-indulgent on Shrove Tuesday.  You need a day to recover from the hangover of indulgence!  However, is one uses Ash Wednesday as a starting point, it can be a new day.  Fire purifies, and ashes mark a new person, a new way of life, a new sense of clarity moving forward.

Lent takes place for 40 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter–and this counts Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday, but does NOT include the six Sundays of Lent!  The Sundays in Lent were seen, especially in the eastern church, as “mini Easters.”  Sunday is the day we celebrate and remember the Resurrection–we do this every Sunday throughout the year.  Every Sunday is the Lord’s day, the day we worship God and remember the resurrection and new life in Christ.  These days were traditionally days off from fasting and giving up.  These were days in which we celebrate together and rejoice.

Lent has traditionally been a time of prayer and fasting, repentance and turning towards God–but to renew and restore our relationship with God.  It is a special time set aside from the busy-ness of our lives to get closer to God.  True, we should do this all year, but the seasons of the church life help us to refocus at times what can come rote memorization or ritual without meaning.

Going back and looking at what Lent really was, a time of preparing for the celebration of Easter the way Advent helps prepare us for Christmas, it refocuses the season for me.  The practice of giving up something for Lent is no longer something to do to make others happy in the church as part of a tradition, but rather a way of sharing the joy of anticipation.

However, there are many traditional practices associated with Lent besides giving up or fasting.  Lent is a time to center on God, to reinvigorate one’s prayer or meditation life.  Lent is the perfect time to try a new prayer practice, to try spending time in solitude and silence with God, to set aside time for something that connects you to the Divine more deeply.  Some people I know give up time-wasters in Lent such as playing computer games like Solitare or Bejeweled; others go on a fast from Facebook.  There are many things that have entered our lives and take up our time and energy away from family and friends and even God.  Is there something that has entered your life that eats up your time and energy that may be unnecessary?  This is a good time to try and scale back, give that time back to God, family and friends.

A recent discussion with some friends about Lent revealed for me an important lesson: many of us use excuses for why we can’t do something.  We are too tired to work out.  We don’t have enough time to read a book because we’re too busy.  We would like to begin a new hobby but we don’t have the energy to engage in something more deeply.  We would like to learn to play a musical instrument but isn’t that silly for a grown adult to do–that’s something we should have done as children as we’ll never be good enough now.

This is the lesson: Lent is the time to give up excuses.  Lent is the time to stop saying “No, I can’t.”  Lent is the time to give up the excuse and give in to time.  Lent is the time to live your life, and to live it more fully, for life is a gift from God that we should use to the fullest.

So what am I doing for Lent?  I am going to write, every day.  Anne Lamott says in Bird by Bird that every writer should commit to writing at least 300 words a day, or one page, even if it is nonsense.  It is a practice, and practices can become habits.  My biggest excuse is that I don’t have enough time.  My second biggest excuse is that I don’t have anything to write. My third biggest excuse is that I’m not good enough.  Lent is the time when I am giving up my excuses and setting aside the time to write.

But don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater–if you slip up, if you can’t do it one day, don’t think your Lenten practice is ruined.  Instead, get right back in the saddle.  Go to the gym the next day.  Get up and write your page in the morning.  Practice the piano at your regular time.  The second thing I’d like to give up this Lent is guilt.  God doesn’t desire or need our guilt–God desires for us to use the gifts we have been given to the fullest.  Pick up and start again.

And you can keep this up after Lent–there’s no reason not too.  Lent is just a great time to start something new, to turn back to God and remember all that we have been given, and to begin again.

 

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