What is that black stuff on your face?
I did not grow up in a church tradition that observed Lent. All I knew about it as a child was that the children from St. Joe’s went home from school with “dirty foreheads” on Ash Wednesday. No one ever explained. As I grew older, I discovered that for some churches, Lent was an opportunity to, at best, point out the futility of the traditions of dead orthodoxy. At their worst, they mocked people that they said gave up one kind of candy bar, but made the “sacrifice” of eating one that they did not like as much.
What is the purpose of Lent?
One day, I discovered Girl Meets God: On the Path to a Spiritual Life . Lauren Winner’s memoir captured my attention and my imagination. Lent, I learned, is season we walk through on the way to Easter. It is the time to do some spiritual spring cleaning. The Lenten disciplines are intended to help us keep focused on what Jesus did to pay the cost for our sins. We ask the Holy Spirit to point out to us areas where He wants to do a work. It is a time of self-examination, repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial. This is not a gimmick to gain points with God, but for us to remember. It actually kind of sounds like what evangelical churches used to call an old-fashioned revival time to me. The best part is that at the end, we have the joy of celebrating His resurrection.
So, what about the candy bars?
Does everyone take it seriously? Not everyone does. It is there for those care to take advantage of it, and it should be something meaningful to them. It doesn’t have to be fasting from food. I know of people who have fasted from caffeine, and some who have fasted from television. One year I fasted from recreational reading, and another time from desserts. (That was a lot tougher than I could have imagined.) Every time you practice your discipline, you remember the sacrifice that Jesus made for you. Last year I could not think of something to give to Jesus before Ash Wednesday rolled around. Then, as Lent began, my mother became ill with the pneumonia which eventually took her life. That was the sobering experience for my Lenten journey last year. We held Mom’s “Life Celebration” the day before Easter – a powerful reminder that I will see her again when we both sit at the feet with the nail prints in them.
If you are interested in further exploring the season of Lent this year, Bread And Wine: Readings For Lent And Easter has some good thoughts to lead you along.