Monday, March 2, 2009

Lent and Ash Wednesday

I had virtually no introduction to Lent in my childhood and was totally unfamiliar with the tradition of Ash Wednesday when I started work in the business world in Chicago. I was intrigued by co-workers that showed up at work with black smears on their forehead, but like any good Mk I reacted to something unfamiliar by quietly watching and waiting until it was explained rather then risk looking like an idiot by asking what was going on. Yeah... that's just me.

In any case, I have been intrigued by Ash Wednesday since then, and by how our culture has made it fashionable to give something up for Lent without really ever having a deeper understanding of the reason for Lent. This year I was hoping to go to a liturgical church and participate in Ash Wednesday services so that I could understand the church tradition and the theology behind the fad.

Hah... in the end I sort of became the poster child for a Lenten failure! I either slept through my alarm or it didn't go off, so I missed the morning service on Ash Wednesday. A meeting at work ran through lunch and I missed the noon service. I missed the evening service to watch Lost with friends... lol... and I don't regret it because that is essential community time! :)

So, I missed the services. However, on Thursday I used the order of service from the Book of Common Prayer for Ash Wednesday, and it was cool to go through those passages and the response to them even if it wasn't in community. The guy whose blog I found the order of service on really encouraged people to fast on Ash Wednesday, and since I was doing all of that before I ate breakfast, I spontaneously decided to get a shot. Yeah, yeah, I know, my reward is not on earth. :)

I was actually pretty worried - I've only fasted once in my life, and that was in high school during a 40-hour famine thing our school did during a drought in Papua. I think that with my extremely fast metabolism and a fringe blood-sugar issue, I was miserable the entire time. I couldn't focus, felt sick and exhausted, and was scared off of fasting until now. Usually even after eating breakfast, if I don't have a snack before noon I get weak and shaky... yeah... I suspect borderline blood-sugar stuff. So I held the whole fasting thing lightly - I thought I'd see how it went during the day and if I needed to eat, I would eat.

I was surprised that it actually went ok. Yeah, I was hungry most of the day, but people are right that it is a unique exercise to let the physical urge to eat remind you of your humanity and frailty and dependence on God. It does become a spiritual exercise. It certainly didn't feel like a great spiritual high or like something intensely meaningful. It felt mundane... but at the same time it was a reminder, and I can appreciate that. At the end of the day when I did start to get weak and shaky I went ahead and had a granola bar, slightly afraid of what could happen if I tried driving home without full attention!

The other thing I contemplated doing was actually giving something up for Lent. I didn't want to give something up just to give something up, but I am aware that I can spend too much time entertaining myself on the Internet. I contemplated giving up facebook and decided that would probably be healthy. That was Wednesday morning. Unfortunately, Friday morning someone had messaged me an important question on facebook and I had to log in to reply. Tragic, I know. While I was on I thought I might as well just check and see if anyone had commented on Alysa's latest album of photos from her Papua days. People had... lots of people... and it was honestly probably worth it for the amount of laughter I got out of it!

So I fell off the wagon pretty quickly. I could have tried hoping back on, but my boss decided that this is the time to get me researching how to use social media like facebook and blogs to raise money for non-profits. Convenient. Now I'm "forced" to be on facebook for work. Heh...

So... I sort of failed my Lenten experiment. That's ok though. One step at a time. Maybe next year!


Melissa said...

i go to an anglican church and our priest encouraged us to think of lent as a time to not necessarily just give something up because it's the thing to do during lent, but perhaps instead think about taking on a spiritual discipline that you wouldn't normally do. i decided to ask all my students for prayer requests and pray for each of them each day. later i found myself realizing that if i had also chosen to give something up, i would have had something to fill that extra time with when i felt like doing the thing i had given up. so that is something for me to think about for next year.

Annie Peterson said...

Fasting is such an interesting thing... I know what you mean about the blood-sugar thing. A couple weeks ago, I tried fasting a day and ended up throwing up and having a near-migraine at the end of it. Turns out a couple sips of juice made me feel TONS better, so the next time I felt free to drink anything I wanted, and I went SO much better. Also, one of my leaders recommends fasting two days in a row -- because the first day your body is totally detoxing and you feel horrible, but the second day you just find your body weak and your heart really tender before the Lord. I think fasting is like a muscle, the more you work it the stronger it gets -- the Lord will give you grace! Keep pursuing it, because it is totally a mandate from the Lord and something that is definitely worthwhile to do!

Mason said...

I can relate to the inexperience with the church calendar and Lent. It was definitely not on the radar of the conservative non-denom churches I spent much of my past in. I started going to Mars Hill recently though (Bell not Driscoll) and we’ve actually been doing the seasons and focusing on Advent and Epiphany and Lent, and I’ve loved it. It has so much depth and power, and I feel more connected to the universal church through these practices that have been engaged in for so long and by so many.

Really like what I’ve seen on this blog, keep it up.