Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Most evangelicals are clueless about Lent. When we hear lent, a lot of us think of dryer lint, the stuff we are supposed to clean out of our dryer's filter on a regular basis so it'll work properly. But for a large chunk of the Christian family, Lent with an "e" is about cleaning out their hearts and lives and preparing for Easter. Growing up Southern Baptist, I really had no understanding about this holy season practiced by Roman Catholics, Orthodox, Anglicans, and others who are often considered "high church" by us protestant types. Attending public school, I knew that the fish sandwiches served on Fridays had something to do with my Catholic schoolmates but had no clue to the significance. And I seem to have faint memories of some of my more dedicated Catholic schoolmates getting ashes on their face. Living on the Mississippi Gulf Coast, I enjoyed the candy, school holidays, and parades that were part of the Mardi Gras season that led up to Lent, but again, I really had no idea what it all meant.
Honestly, I still don't understand it in full. I've been part of nondenominational churches and evangelical churches my whole life. As a teenager, even though I was surrounded by peers who were Catholic, religion and faith was something we rarely discussed. Its only been in my adult years that I've begun to have the kind of relationships with strong Christians from Catholic, Orthodox, and Anglican churches that involve discussing such matters of the heart. Yeah, I was a pretty shallow teenager. God, church, and faith were a part of my life, but like most American teens, these things were not often discussed outside my own family or church functions.
Though I don't understand it in full, I'm learning more and more and beginning to appreciate the value of lent. At the rock-and-roll, non-denominational church that we've been a part of for over a year, our pastor asks the congregation every lent season to give up something that is keeping us from hearing from God or drawing closer to God. For most of the congregation, its television. Some, for various reasons, give up sweets...a stiff sacrifice considering the fact that Valentine's Day usually falls during this time. Others fast a certain number of meals or days a week.
What I'm learning about lent, is what Zihna Edwards wrote in an online article at WRECKED FOR THE ORDINARY:
Lent is a time of letting go. With Jesus we turn toward Jerusalem, and open ourselves to the miraculous things God wants yet to do with our lives. It’s a time of voluntary simplicity, making space. People who equate Lenten sacrifice with a New Year’s resolution are missing the richness of the possibility. We have before us a preparation for Life… and an invitation to die to the things that keep us dead in a little further way. We could make this out to be about chocolate. Or we could ask God what things are getting in our way.
As I seek to understand better this spiritually rich season, I'd love to hear how you and your church observe lent. And if you'd like to read the rest of Zihna Edwards' article, just go to .
Btw, the photo above is of my beautiful friend, Claudia Mair Burney, aka The Ragamuffin Diva. You can read some of her Lenten reflections at her blog .


Karen Deborah said...

I grew up Lutheran and they observed lent. The point with evangelicals is that no further sacrifice is needed. Jesus sacrifice is complete. I see what you mean but I am cautious with "works" type of rituals. On the other hand fasting from anything for spiritual growth is always a good thing, and lent is basically a fast. Interesting thoughts on the subject.

Rhonda Jeanne said...

I grew up sort of catholic. I made my first communinon, but that's about it. I never got the fish on friday thing and I still don't get it. Would someone please explain that. Seriously, what's that about?

Just Me said...

I'm a bit behind the times on checking blogs. I tried to check Kelly's today and found it's gone, and I hope she hasn't given it up completely, although I have a surface understanding of her hardships at this time.

As a Roman Catholic, this is my understanding.

The ashes symbolize our temporary life here on earth and are meant to bring our focus on the afterlife. The 40 days of Lent are partly meant to remind us of Christ's 40 days in the desert, his fasting, prayer, and temptation by Satan. We are to use this time to fast pray, and reflect upon our lives and bring our focus to God.

My daughter was given a nifty checklist of things to do during Lent, things like helping mommy, saying a few prayers, not eating candy, etc., and I think for children "giving up" a material thing for lent is an excellent way to learn a little bit about what Jesus sacrificed for us.

Karen Deborah: It isn't the "works" of sacrifice to buy God's love; it is to remind us of what Jesus did for us. I do agree that the Catholic Church does sometimes get entangled in the "works for salvation" mindset.

Giving up a material something for the 40 days of Lent is a nice sentiment, but what have you gained after the 40th day? It's nice to give up candy, let's say, but on Day 41 you're back to eating candy.

In recent years, the Church has been focusing on the idea of using these 40 days to cast off bad habits and build new ones in faith or behavior, and carry those beyond the 40 days of Lent.

I do not give up a material thing for lent. I do try to step away from the things that distract my focus on where I should be with my faith and my family. Yes, it is something that I should do throughout the year, but Lent is a springboard, you could say, much like the "National Smokeout" is a springboard for people who want to quit cigarettes. It's an extra motivational push.

Gosh, that sounds so easy in print, but I have to admit that I'm having a really hard day with it today. My kids were home from school and driving me up the walls. They are testing every corner of my patience even as I write this.

Ah... Fish on Friday. I only observe it because my kids are in Catholic school and I don't want to confuse them. I've been told that a pope instituted the Fish on Friday practice to boost a struggling fishing industry. Whether that is true or not, I don't know.

It used to be fish on Fridays year round with fasting on Fridays during lent. Fasting these days is defined for persons of good health between 12 and 60 or 65, eating only one full meal during the day and two lighter, almost snack-like, meals.

I just view the abstinence from meat as another way to focus on Lent. For me, it sort of "marks the time," much like the four Sundays of Advent season.

Rhonda Jeanne said...