Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. If you’re not familiar with Lent, it is forty days leading up to Easter. It’s a sombre time of reflection and (traditionally) fasting. It’s a time in which to prepare yourself for Easter, which is a very sad and then an incredibly joyous time. I believe the original tradition behind this comes from the forty days which Jesus spent fasting in the dessert. Traditionally, people fast from meat or fat – that’s where the history of “Fat Tuesday” or “Mardi Gras” began. People had to use up all their extravagant foods before Lent began. Trust me, nobody was flashing anybody in the Bible or the early church. Today, not that many churches observe Lent. I was surprised to discover this week that my own husband had never heard of Lent until he went to Bible school. Then again, the only reason I know about and observe Lent is because I’m some sort of pseudo-Anglican.
Let me clarify. I consider myself a pretty non-denominational Christian and I’m really okay with that. I’ve been a regular attendee at five different churches, all of them different denominations. When we were kids and our family moved and was looking for a new church, my parents looked for two things: good preaching and good children’s ministries. I firmly believe that that’s how it should be done. (Well, obviously right now the children’s ministry doesn’t affect me personally. However, I do think a church should emphasize families and have programs/teaching in place to help them.) That’s how I’ve looked for churches since I’ve moved out on my own.I think there are many great denominations out there with many positives and a few negatives. I do think that when people become overly tied to a denomination, that’s dangerous. If you’re identifying yourself as an Anglican/Presbyterian/Baptist/whatever before you’re identifying yourself as a Christian, that’s not right.
Oh, right, back to my pseudo-Anglicanism. Like I said, my parents had a couple of criteria for looking for a new church and when I was a kid those criteria led us to start attending an Anglican church. (It’s this one and it’s really awesome.) I probably went to that church for about ten years. I went to Sunday School, I went to youth group, I was part of small groups, I taught Sunday School. I was baptized and then confirmed there. (I was also dedicated as a baby so I’ve really got my bases covered.) So in those ways, I’m an Anglican.
When I moved out on my own, I did some church hunting for a while. I visited a handful of different churches, including an Anglican one. And there I realized that I’m not actually that Anglican. Or at least, I realized that I’m not tied to the Anglican church indiscriminately. So I settled on a church where they preached the word of God and I felt welcomed. (It’s this one and it’s awesome.)
Anyway, this has all been a long and rather convoluted way to introduce the first day of Lent. One thing I do really appreciate (and sometimes miss) about the Anglican Church is its liturgical tradition. The collects and prayers and steady, consistent tradition found in the Book of Common Prayer is beautiful. Yes, praying your own words straight from your heart to God’s is beautiful too but sometimes we really need a place to start and the BCP is great for that. I’ve found it helpful when my mouth doesn’t know how to express what my heart feels or when I need to be reminded of good prayer/Bible reading habits. I think Lent falls into a similar category. It is by no means necessary and, depending on your attitude or motivation, it isn’t necessarily helpful. I’ve given up things for Lent and had varying degrees of “spiritual success”. In the last few years I haven’t really observed Lent.
I’ve thought about what I want to do this year and if there’s something I want to or should give up. Here’s the thing – giving things up simply for the sake of giving them up is not fasting. It’s dieting. This year I decided rather than giving something up, I would take something on and I’ve decided that thing is worship. Specifically, musical worship. I plan on dedicating a portion of each day to being at my piano and playing some music and worshipping my God.
What about you folks? Does anybody out there observe Lent? Love it? Hate it? Never heard of it?
In other news, I’m reading two really great books that I would recommend.
2666 by Roberto Bolano. Just started this one. It’s big but already very fascinating and I’m excited about it.
Letters to a Young Evangelical by Tony Campolo. I think it’s always great to think about what defines you and what you believe and why.