Friday, February 19, 2010

Learning about Lent


I didn't grow up ever having people around me participate in Lent. In the past few years it's come into vogue among young evangelicals to give something up, and the last few years I've had lots of friends and acquaintances giving up blogging and/or facebook and/or tv for Lent.

I'd thrown out the idea of joining in mostly because I tend to dislike following the crowd, and it felt like a crowd movement. Yeah, it seemed kinda cool, but it seemed like something I should be convicted about and decide to do between me and God, not just because it was cool. Last year I followed Scot McKnight's call to begin every day by praying the the "Jesus Creed" (essentially praying back to God the first and second greatest commandments) and then praying it every time it's brought to mind throughout the day. That was a good exercize.

This year I thought about it all as we approached Ash Wednesday, but now I am aware of the depth and importance of Lent in the Catholic and Orthodox tradition, and felt a bit intimidated/humbled by this. I haven't really known what Lent is all about. I know people give things up, but I don't really know WHY, what the purpose is behind this. My church is absolutely not liturgical, so to be discipled in this process I would have had to find another church nearby. I couldn't find a morning or noon-time service near my work, and the less-interested hubs nixed my two evening service suggestions. So. I think this year I will spend some time simply learning about Lent, rather than giving up things without understanding why I am doing so.

I really appreciated Julie Clawson's post about Lent.

She starts off by saying:
The point of Lent is not denial.
But for a long time I thought it was. Everything I heard about Lent revolved around the acts of self-denial. It was all about what object or habit one would give up and how hard it was to deny oneself of that thing. Of course that denial was meant to help one think about God and Christ’s sacrifice, but in truth the focus was always on the act of denial itself. The question always is, “what are you giving up for Lent?” as if that is what the season is about.When it comes to Lent we often...denying ourselves something for the sake of denial. We give up chocolate or Facebook thinking that act of denial is the purpose of Lent. And we end up missing the point.

But 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. Transformation is about letting ourselves be filled with God’s presence so that we can be shaped by God’s grace. Our acts of kenosis – denying ourselves in order to empty ourselves enough to allow God to fill us – are means to an end. They are disciplines that prepare us to be transformed. We deny ourselves so that we can be reborn as new creations – to live more fully as the Kingdom citizens God desires us to be.

I encourage you to read the rest of her post by following the link above if you're interested. It was a great post. I've gone back and read some other resources as well, and come to understand that historically Lenten practices are alms-giving, fasting, and prayer. In the early church it was the 40 day period leading up to Easter in which new believers where taught the doctrine of the church and prepared for their baptism on Easter day. It used to be that the entire church fasted every Wednesday and Friday, Lent or not.

The church as a whole practices in in a variety of ways, with the Orthodox, Catholic, and high Church Protestant churches all varying in practice. Regardless, the point is the come to the Lord and repent and prepare your life for Him.

So. I am thinking about this, and how someone can participate in the universal church's Lenten preparations even without being a part of a local church's preparations. I appreciated Rachel Held Evan's suggestions of passages to read, 10 questions to ask yourself, etc.


Rachel Held Evans said...

Thanks for the shout-out, Kacie! I really respect that fact that you want to learn what Lent is really about before your participate. (This is the first year I've applied myself to understanding the season - and I'm still trying to figure out how best to observe it!)

Julie's post was excellent. It really helped me redirect my thoughts to preparing for Easter...rather than preparing for swimsuit season. :-)

Alida said...

I have never really focused on Lent either. And all I have ever heard about is what people choose to give up. Thank you so much for posting this and helping direct me to listening to God about what I need to transform in my life or self this season to become more like Him.

Steph said...

This is the first year I've really taken the time to understand. My first exposure to it was at Calvin, and I didn't know a THING about it. I came out of my dorm seeing hundreds of students with black crosses on their foreheads and thought something of the end times was commencing (signs on their foreheads). It was pretty comical at the time. :) I went into the bathroom to see if I had a sign on my forehead. Nope. Then one of my roomies explained it. :)

I made a commitment to, yes, give up a vice with the specific intent of removing a distraction and spending the time I would be spending with it instead with the Lord. I truly don't miss facebook, which I think will play an important part in how or if I return to it. Asher misses coffee a lot. :)

I also made a commitment to fast, as I told you and Isaac. I'm doing the Daniel fast, mostly so I don't die. :) I'd done a 30-hour famine once, but that was it. This is an intentional step to quiet the body and let the soul be nourished by the Lord. You're so right to highlight the denial--it's so easy to get caught up in. It's also such a temptation to turn inward and become reclusive and wallow in the devastation of sin.

One source I found as I was studying lent before wednesday highlighted that while fasting and observing lent, it is absolutely essential to continue to fellowship with other believers...1) so that you aren't crushed by sorrow, and 2) so that you don't become self-righteous or self-deceived by the actions you are taking. You never want to think that what you are doing justifies you. It's not about the doing of it at all--it's about what doing it prepares you for.

These last 3 days have been a conscious turning the volume down on everything else and turning the volume up on the voice of God with, as you said, the intent of being transformed.

The source I've been using for guided scripture study is this : In order to turn up the voice of the Lord, I've started memorizing scripture--something I haven't done since high school Bible class.

The ash wednesday service I went to was so dark and quiet. I had never seen the candles before--they had 8 candles out on stands, one of them larger and set apart from the others (the Christ candle). Included in the liturgy was an insert that read:

"There is a concentration on light during Lent. The light of Christ is diminished and disappears on Good Friday when the Christ candle is extinguished. On Ash Wednesday, there will be 8 candles in the sanctuary, including the Christ candle. During the Ash wednesday service we will extinguish one candle. Each Sunday during lent we will extinguish another candle until only the Christ candle remains. On Good Friday, the people of God will experience the "it is finished" part of the gospel. The Christ candle will be extinguished as we prayerfully wait for the glorious day of Christ's resurrection."

The reverend extinguished the first candle, and tears fell down my face. I've begun to experience for the first time what it feels like to not know what happens next in the gospel story.

Kacie said...

Was that the Lutheran Church, Steph? Because last year we went to the Good Friday service of darkness at the Lutheran church across from Watermark, and I cried there. It was so powerful, but what was incredible was while Isaac and I were both visibly moved, most of the rest of the congregation appeared completely bored and distracted.

Steph said...

It was at the presbyterian one. There were maybe 15 people there..all over 50. We were all instructed to leave in silence, and as soon as most of them broke through the doors to the church they were talking and laughing as if they'd just left a funny or uplifting movie or something. Ash and I were both feeling really heavy and didn't talk for awhile. Yeah, so crazy.

Anonymous said...

Kacie - At one time I tried participating in the Lenten journey without being part of a church that did so. You are right in realizing that it is hard. There is something about the group effort and the encouragement one gets from the liturgical services when we're all in this together. That being said, I think it is a *great* idea that you want to learn about the Lent during the Lenten season.

Orthodox will sometimes call the this a "season of Bright Sadness" Last weekend Met. KALLISTOS described Lent many ways, but the one I remember is that "Lent is not the closing of a door but the opening of a flower". It does always seem that it's about giving up stuff, but in reality we should concentrate on opening up our relationship with God and growing closer to Him. Yes, that means taking a good hard look at ourselves (as Isaiah said when he saw God, "Woe is me for I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell upon people with unclean lips")

If I may suggest, Great Lent by Alexander Schmemann is an excellent book on the Orthodox understanding of Lent.

Troy said...

Lent can be a very powerful time of expecting, of thoughtfulness and selflessness.


Julie Clawson is great no? I saw her speak this summer and was impressed with her after having read her blog for awhile. I appreciate her writing.

GretchenJoanna said...

I also highly recommend *Great Lent* by Schmemann.

Lent is all about repentance, which can be the opposite of giving something up or doing sacrificial feats, which can so quickly lead us to pride.
And it's about finding out that we live by the grace and power of God, not by all the other props we like to use, food being one of the biggest.