I didn’t grow up with Lent.
Actually, being from Western Pennsylvania where a full 50% of all residents are Catholic and an imposing stone Catholic church dots many of the corners in my small hometown, I can’t imagine my formerly-Catholic-later-evangelical-independent-Bible-Church father smiling on any such observance. He wasn’t a real big fan of the religious identity attached to him by virtue of his being the son of an Italian immigrant. Maybe if his dad hadn’t been an abusive drunk, Dad would have thought more highly of his religious heritage. So it goes. Anyway, I certainly wasn’t raised to see anything valuable in liturgical traditions.
My little country church eschewed anything that smacked of vain tradition. Truth be told, we eschewed pretty much everything… except independent Fundamental traditions. THOSE were ok. So we had communion once a quarter, credo-baptisms once a year (if we needed to), altar calls after every sermon, and no relationship with any church that wasn’t of the same theological stripe. The *exact* same stripe.
The liturgical year in my world was marked by poinsettias for Christmas (so lovely in a building decorated in red and white and wood) and choral “cantatas” for Easter and Christmas. And patriotic sermons on Memorial Day and the Fourth of July.
As I get older, I sense that abandoning hundreds of years of tradition may not necessarily be any more “holy.” After all, didn’t Paul say in Romans 14 that those who celebrate certain days or seasons have no right to despise those who treat every day alike? Let each person be persuaded in his own mind.
The concept of Lent has been warped at times, certainly, but I think the kernel of beauty is truly admirable: a setting aside of temporal pleasures for the sake of earthly contemplation. Traditionally, Lent copies the 40 days of fasting that Jesus endured before His temptation and the beginning of His ministry. In my stream of Protestantism, Lent observance is a minority position and more focused on paying attention to the sacrifices demanded by Christ’s earthly ministry.
If the kenosis of Christ forms a major touchstone of our theology — that Philippians 2 details the stunning humiliation experienced by Christ so that He could embody humanity for the sake of our redemption — doesn’t that deserve some celebration in our worship? I have friends who abstain from significant pleasures and devote themselves to additional Bible study and prayer. Usually Sundays are “days off” from abstention, for on this side of the Cross we celebrate on the Sabbath, not mourn.
My Lenten friends seem to reap benefits that I envy. In a world full of beeps and whistles and voicemail and text messaging and Facebook and tweets and Hulu and Netflix and cable television on demand, I think a little silence is more than welcome.
so… here are my Lenten vows:
I will abstain from coffee (it’s usually my morning companion), and I might limit tea as well. We’ll see.
I will limit my engagement with online media. More books and thought, fewer Facebook sessions. (I consider blogging to be an extension of journaling, so I plan to post on Xanga throughout the season.)
I will pursue times of meditation and prayer, probably picking up with a One-Year Bible plan that I abandoned a while back.
I will set aside physical cravings so that I may with greater joy anticipate the joy of the Resurrection Sunday.
PS. Wry quip at lunch from David on Lent: “Give up something I enjoy? Well, I would give up video games but I know my resolve would crumble the day Mass Effect 3 comes out.” LOL