Why I’m Sort Of Observing Lent
But without the fasting part. Or the ashes.
First, a bit of background.
I grew up a denomination that — intentionally — lived under a rock.
“Lent” was not a word I ever heard, unless someone was explaining in the past tense that they had let someone borrow something.
I certainly did not know it was a term used to describe a season of time in church calendars until I was probably in my early twenties. Then, it was something that the Catholics celebrated — which, of course, automatically made it “wrong.”
I’ve since left my “church,” my denomination, and most of my presuppositions (not all of them, how many of us ever do?) in a back alley somewhere between the Midwest and the west of Africa. Why is a long, long story, but one I look forward to writing about someday. I hope that my opinions are slowly being transformed into a reflection of the love of Jesus, instead of the self-righteousness of pharisaical religion. There’s a difference.
With the new-found freedom of owning no rules but the ones I see and understand in scripture to apply to Jesus-people today, I live a life of listening and exploration. I no longer build walls between myself and people of other denominations, belief systems, or religious convictions. And I eschew formalized religion and hierarchical spirituality.
So…why are you observing Lent?
Frankly, it’s about curiosity, and giving myself the permission to explore all of God’s Kingdom. Other followers of Christ, no matter what their doctrinal beliefs, are part of his Kingdom. And I firmly believe there is always something to learn from how other people interact with God.
In addition, I have learned to value depth and breadth in community, especially when dealing with matters of Christianity. It keeps me humble, honest, and hopefully kinder.
When you can define a person or a group by labels and differences, you can no longer connect with or empathize with them. You dehumanize them. That is the exact opposite of what Jesus was all about, and The Church is missing this.
From my perspective, Lent is an opportunity to experience community centered around the Jesus I belong to.
For me, this is totally not about the fast. It’s not about penitence, penance, or repentance. (Those three are all different, by the way.) It’s not even about “growing closer to God.” In fact, I disagree strongly with the ‘why’ of Lent that most churches put up on their websites and out in their literature. I don’t even technically agree with most of what I read this morning in my Lenten devotional study.
But a focus on the life of Christ leading to the cross? A sense of anticipation building up to Easter? Another opportunity to connect with the Kingdom of God through its citizens? I’m here for it.
Now about that fasting thing.
I’ve been on the fence about the whole fast thing, for a number of reasons.
- Some of the ideas that came to mind would only be leveraged as a self-gratifying benefit — i.e., giving up sugar to lose weight or get healthier, etc. That seems to be slightly missing the point.
- I spent the better part of my prior walk with Jesus “life-fasting” out of duty, fear, and shame. No more. I’m in the middle of drinking in a season of finally experiencing life with The Bridegroom…and he said that’s not a time for fasting.
- I don’t see much point in fasting because religious leadership told me to. This idea of shaming people into choosing something to fast from seems to be present in most denominations that typically observe Lent. If it’s not in yours, that is awesome. I’m seeing it everywhere, if not as outright pressure, than at least expectation.
Even in the non-denominational Lenten devotional I read this morning, this statement was made in the text: “What does it reveal about you that you “can’t” give up coffee?”
‘Scuse me? What is up with this shaming people for being undisciplined in an arbitrary, organization-driven decision, as if God was the one who was offended?
I belong to an internet community centered around this same devotional. The thread yesterday revealed how insecure and fearful most people were about observing the fast…person after person expressed fear of “failing” in the fast.
Who do we think we are that God gains anything from us giving up coffee, or sugar, or social accounts, or whatever? This does not seem to be a God-ward posture…this is self-dependent, self-focused motivation, and it irritates me that it gets passed off as “spiritual,” and that it’s encouraged.
Those are my basic beefs (ha ha) with a Lenten fast, at least this year.
Don’t get me wrong…I believe there’s a place and a time for fasting in the Christian experience. But for me that time is not now.
I spent a lot of years depriving myself of different joys and good things in life, because I felt that I had to in order to be close to God or to please him or to make myself acceptable to him. Now I understand the flawed construct that this is, and entering into it as part of a tradition, instead of as a heartfelt need to commune with God in an unusual way, is not for me in this season.
So…you’re not fasting at all?
This season of Lent represents an opportunity to intentionally dwell on Jesus’ life leading to death…in remembrance of that journey, and to remind myself that paying attention to it in community is why I’m observing Lent at all, I am doing something out of my ordinary.
I’m choosing to only light candles on Sunday. Not to say I’m fasting from something, not to abase myself before God, but for a different, two-fold purpose: a) heightening the joy of our family’s Sabbath practices by literally dwelling in light, and; b) to remind myself that before Resurrection, the Light of Christ was missing from the world.
For now, any fasting I do has to be less about self-denial, and more about remembrance. So, if that’s a “fast,” then, yeah, I guess, maybe I’m “fasting for Lent.” You’re probably a better judge of that than me.
And, the ashes?
Here’s the thing about the ashes. The artist in me loves the symbolism. The palms of triumph and victory being burned to dark dust, which is then smeared into the shape of the cross where the God-Man won eternal victory for my soul? Um, YES. Sign me up!
Also, I have no qualms about being identified with Jesus in public.
But ashes on my forehead don’t automatically do that.
Wearing a palm-branch-cinder cross on Ash Wednesday does not identify me to the community as a Jesus-follower as much as it identifies me with formalized religion. Again, they’re different things.
If I were to go to an Ash Wednesday service, wear the cross to Wal-Mart, and run into someone I used to know, the misunderstanding would be guaranteed. In their eyes, I would simply be identifying with a different form of mangled religiosity. The part about “different” doesn’t bother me very much; the “religiosity” does.
I left religion to identify more fully with what I understand about Christ and what I believe it means to follow him. I am not willing to be identified with anything less.
So…you won’t be wearing ashes?
I don’t know. I don’t attend a traditional church gathering (much less one that has last year’s palm branches lying around waiting to be burned) so there isn’t necessarily a built-in opportunity.
I will be attending an evening Ash Wednesday gathering with a friend’s congregation (because I’ve never been to one). But it’s a non-denom with Southern Baptist roots, so I have no idea if there will actually be ashes or not. Who knows?
I may end up with a cinder cross on my forehead, then drive to my house, put my toddler to bed, and wash the ash off. I’m fine with that, because the value of the symbol is for those who understand it.
These are my present-day, 2019 thoughts and feelings on the matter. Maybe they’ll be different next year. Maybe they’ll be different this year, by the time Lent ends!
Do you observe Lent? Why or why not? And how?