My friend Kristin, of Halfway to Normal, wrote this week about Lent, or rather about how Lent seems to sneak up on her and grip her with one of two brands of guilt. In the first scenario she feels guilty for not celebrating Lent. In the second, her guilt is because she’s not practicing it the “right way.” Whatever that mean.
Most people who have walked a Christian faith of some flavor for any length of time can empathize. Lent seems to be the Guilty Season. We talk about what we’re giving up, we bemoan our beloved meat on Fridays, we walk about with ash on our heads, wallowing publicly in our grief and guilt. And that’s fine; Lent is a reflective time, a quiet time, when the ending we know is coming is not years away, but just at the end of the donkey ride into Jerusalem, right over that hill there.
Kristin’s post asked me to think about how I practice Lent, to consider its meaning and to let go of the heaviness. I also wondered, in this twitter age, if the constant barrage of information at our fingertips, the over-sharing we seem to enjoy so much, is not a detriment to the reflectiveness of the season. I’m okay with sharing how we practice, but it feels a little bit like telling people how much I tithe, or what’s in my underwear drawer. Just sort of…you know…private.
Finally, her post colored the interior of my mind with more of those warm fuzzy memories of the good old days. The Presbyterian church in which I was raised was all kinds of progressive when it came to acknowledging the church calendar. My dad, the pastor, made a Very Big Deal of Lent. The usual Wednesday night classes were exchanged for Serious Lenten Classes. Instead of breaking into demographic groups—and letting the kids have the social hall for floor hockey—we read books and watched movies and then discussed them in large groups of mixed ages and genders. We experienced real Passover celebrations. We did the whole Ash Wednesday thing, with real ashes at a stupidly early service (most Presbyterian churches in our area at that time did not do this). One year, my dad carved 200 tiny wooden crosses and suspended them from leather thongs. Everyone in the church wore them for 40 days to mark the season.
Even though one year he decided to show the animated version of The Hobbit, in which the Golam is the scariest mother I ever saw (I still have nightmares, for real), even though I probably would have rather been playing floor hockey or sardines or even practicing on the Orff instruments, (or let’s be honest, passing notes and giggling) I grasped the tenor of the season. It was Special. We were Practicing Lent. We were In Community. And not just because the big people seemed to capitalize the words when they spoke them.
I think what my friend Kristin was seeking is the same thing our church sought: a defined purpose, parameters and focus. I’m no theologian, but I suspect there’s more than one way to skin a Lenten cat. Traditions do help us refine our focus, but they can be a crutch to personal meditations. And so approaching Lent with an open mind, instead of a prescribed set of dictates might be the most intentional of all.
What do you think? What does Lent mean to you?