Yesterday was Ash Wednesday, the official kickoff for the Christian season of Lent. The silly Ash Wednesday selfie above is from a few years ago, before I chopped off my long hair. (I'm the goofball on the left). Now, I love me some Christmas and Easter, don't get me wrong -- but Easter makes no sense to me without Lent in the same way that Christmas makes no sense to me without Advent. And I wanted to talk about that today because there are so many misconceptions out there about Lent and what it means to Christians today. In case anyone's interested, here's what Lent means to me.
On Ash Wednesday and throughout the forty days of Lent, we as Christians are called to take a long, hard look at ourselves in a ruthless magnifying mirror. But instead of examining our faces for wrinkles, sun spots and blemishes, we're examining our hearts and our souls and taking stock of the many ways in which we have fallen short spiritually.
Remember Oscar Wilde's 1891 novel, The Picture of Dorian Gray? It was about a handsome but morally depraved, evil man whose true character was reflected in a portrait like the one above (painted by Alvin Albright for the 1945 film). The Bible tells us that we are ALL hideously disfigured by sin, just like Dorian Gray, and no amount of Botox, cosmetics or Photoshopping could ever hide the ugliness of our sins from God.
Romans 3:10-12New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
10 as it is written:
“There is no one who is righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who has understanding, there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; there is no one who shows kindness, there is not even one.”
Lent is when sin gets really personal, when we acknowledge our own brokenness, admit to ourselves and to God that we personally have an addiction to sin that we cannot overcome on our own, ask for His forgiveness and surrender to the gift of His grace and mercy. I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. I am the one who has sinned against God in my thoughts, in my words, and in my actions -- by the things I have done, as well as the things I should have done but left undone. I have not loved God with my whole heart, and I have certainly not loved my neighbors and my enemies as much as I love myself.
So on Ash Wednesday, the greasy ashes on our foreheads are a visible reminder of the brevity of our time here on Earth. The ashes symbolize our repentance for our sin and our desire to be freed from our earthly desires and fit for eternal life in Christ. Sounds like a bummer, doesn't it? No trumpet fanfares, no "Joy To the World," no pretty poinsettias or fragrant lilies for Lent! But there's still beautiful music, like the anthem "Create In Me" by Terre Johnson that our choir sang last night, based on Psalm 51.
Because we go into Lent looking inward and discovering that our hearts look like this:
My Heart At the Beginning of Lent
...and then, after forty days of reflection and prayer, we come out of Lent on Easter Sunday with a deeper understanding of why we need a savior so badly in the first place. God loves us so much that, when we repent and seek His forgiveness and guidance in our lives, He takes our bruised, broken and battered hearts and mends them with His mercy and love.
My Heart on Easter Sunday
Without Lent, Easter Sunday is just an excuse for new dresses, pastel marshmallow bunnies and hunting for painted eggs. Meaningfully observing the season of Lent is a necessary catharsis that humbles us and enables us to begin to comprehend the magnitude of God's love for us. The enormity of Christ's sacrifice, taking on the sin of the world, accepting the punishment for OUR sin, yours and mine, is awesome in the original sense of that word: Stunning! Breathtaking! Mind-blowing! Overwhelming! The gift of Lent, a time set aside for reflection and repentance, allows us to rejoice in the paradox that only by surrendering to God's will can we ever truly be free. So... How will I meaningfully observe Lent this year? Am I giving up wine and chocolate? No meat on Fridays until after Easter?
Well, if I really felt like wine, chocolate and meat were distracting me spiritually, I might give them up for Lent. You don't have to necessarily give ANYTHING up for Lent to be a "good Christian," by the way -- a lot of Christians I know like to ADD something to their lives for Lent, like daily Lenten devotions, attending additional worship services, 40 acts of kindness or of charity... Anything that makes them feel closer to God and more spiritually focused.
I really like the Biola University Lent Project daily devotions. I signed up to get them emailed to me every day throughout Lent, and each devotion has accompanying visual art, music, and poetry incorporating a broad range of styles. The art and music really help me to connect spiritually and emotionally with the scripture and the devotional text. Today's devotion was a reflection on Jeremiah 17:5-10, contrasting the bush withering in the desert (he whose heart has turned away from the Lord) to the tree with leaves of green, planted near the water (the man who trusts in the Lord). The multimedia devotion included van Gogh's Cypresses painting (above), a poem by M. Vasalis, and a contemplative piano composition entitled "Methuselah Tree," by contemporary post-classical minimalist Keith Kenniff. So I'm adding these daily Lenten devotions, but not as an end unto themselves. I'm using the devotions to help me stay focused on the season of Lent amid all of the shiny distractions and earthy mirages that lure us away from what is real, what is true, and what really matters. One "golden calf" I know I'm guilty of worshipping is materialism.
I'm not talking about diamonds and furs and judging people by how much money they have... I'm talking about my weakness for buying specialty quilting tools, patterns, books, magazines, baking gadgets, and ACTUAL material -- FABRIC!! Now, baking, quilting and reading are not activities that threaten my relationship with God in and of themselves, but I'm thinking about how enmeshed these activities have become with our consumer culture and how much (or how little) of this stuff I actually need. And I'm mindful of the warning in the parable of the rich man in Luke 12:16-21. How close am I to tearing down my own barns kitchen and studio and building bigger ones to hold all of my posessions? So I'm going to try really hard to give up consumerism for Lent this year. I'll still shop for groceries, but I'll be trying hard not to buy anything that we don't really need, at least for the next eight weeks. No new baking pans, no new fabric, no new specialty rulers... and no new shoes! It will be interesting to see how that plays out and, by the time Easter rolls around, I should have a much better idea of whether and to what extent my relationship with instant gratification shopping has been spiritually compromising. Let's all be clear -- I am not giving up shopping FOREVER! In fact, in order to make it through eight weeks without "retail therapy," I will be including these food staples on my list of Lenten grocery necessities:
Wine and Chocolate: What I'm NOT Giving Up For Lent!
So, what about you? Are you giving up anything for Lent this year? If you are of a different faith that has a similar holiday or festival focusing on repentance and renewal, I'd love to hear about those traditions, too. Happy Lent, everyone!
Wow what a great way to explain lent. I will say that I am a bit jaded about lent and ash Wednesday services after working for years with people that disappeared from work all day long to attend lenten service. But you made such a great point about it being a great time for introspection. Thanks for sharing the links to the devotional too.
That was a wonderful presentation about Lent. Thank you so much for explaining it. I am not of your faith but we are sisters because God is our Father. I renew my covenants that I made at baptism every Sunday at Sacrament. It is a time to think of Christ and his sacrifice for sun so we can have our sins forgiven. And by doing so every week we think of what we have done amd how we can do better in the coming week. It sounds like your reflections during Lent. Enjoy your Lenten season and Easter.
Really good way to explain Lent! I struggled this year with what I wanted to do for Lent. Giving up sweets, or wine or tv just didn't do it for me. I decided that I needed to do something that would be a change in my life going forward so decided to give up bad language. It has wormed it's way into my daily life and it needs to go! I am also increasing the amount of time I spend in prayer. So Happy Lent to you and may we all become closer to God through the next 40 days!
I, like you, am a Lutheran girl and have spent my life in this way of worship. Your view of Lent is a good witness of your faith and I applaud you for taking the time to explain. My "Lutheran" views have changed a lot in the past 10 years or so. I don't always think our denomination(s) (I'm LCMS) hit the mark on what Christians should do. But I love our church year and the chance we get to celebrate and observe important events. And I will admit here, but not to some of my Christian friends, that I love Lenten music, especially the minor key ones. I generally don't give things up for Lent, but I do try to add worship and prayer time. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.
Wow, that really made me stop and think. I appreciate your thoughts about Lent and how important it is. I am a Believer and have missed church the last 2 weeks because of work. I was out on Wed and was shocked that I did not realize it was Ash Wed. Thank you for your wise words and refreshing my views on Lent.
It is nice of you to share your belief on your blog I am catholic, similar in religious views.
On a different personal level my 16 year old granddaughter is a singer, she sings with her high school choir I attended her concert on Tuesday evening it was lovely. When you mention your singing I think of my granddaughter and hope she will continue to sing throughout her life.
Perhaps during this season I can encourage you to use some of your time to continue to use your already purchased fabrics to make a few more pineapple blocks
good job on the lent thing...
you are just adorable. Let's be friends, kay? Just come out to CO and we'll be besties. That last comic has me still laughing. And the pic of the pup is adorable too. I do love a cuddly dog. LeeAnna
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