When I was young, growing up in a Methodist mega church in Texas, I loved Lent. It’s strange, but I loved the buzz of conversation around what we were choosing to abstain from; we loved comparing and contrasting what we were each giving up, who was practicing Lent, and how those weird Catholics had to eat fish on Fridays. One year in high school, however, it all sank in. Admittedly, it wasn’t the entire season (the 40 days) that impacted me so deeply, but a Holy Saturday service I experienced. I remember I decided to fast Holy Saturday, not eating again until after the Easter service where we proclaimed, “He is risen indeed!” Don’t be impressed: this was a season of life where I lived on POP tarts and Coca Cola (really not good). I remember sitting on the grass at one of our Saturday services where the band put on a great show about the journey to the cross that was already steeped and dripping with the celebration and joy of the resurrection: a celebration that, according to the church calendar, we were premature in addressing. There’s Good Friday, then there’s Holy Saturday, then and only then is there Easter Sunday. The ache in my stomach starkly disagreed with the wealth of noise, song, and joy around me. My boyfriend at the time and his family tried to push a Quizno’s sub on me and I tried to appease their urging with a strawberry lemonade (without telling them of the principal hunger that was railing against everything happening around us). I obviously don’t know where everyone was internally and emotionally for those 39 days (and Sundays) prior to this, maybe they were absolutely grueling and needed the respite of Easter a day early, but for me… Lent finally made sense. It’s not about the outward: the conversation, the comparison, the I’m-not-eating-chocolate-so-I-know-the-suffering-of-Christ. It’s about allowing our small, human thinking to understand a true event (and the emotion of it) that occurred thousands of years ago.
Gosh, the number of times that Scripture states, “remember” is intense. I think it’s because we as humans so, so easily forget. It’s even easier for us to forget things that we’ve not witnessed but have been passed down in our traditions, stories, and practices.
There’s at least four reasons why the church calendar and Christian Tradition ask us to remember by abstaining or going without during Lent: to make space, to sink in, to give to God, and to give to others. There’s something in my mind that keeps paralleling the Lenten practice of going-without with self-care: a concept that probably goes directly against a typical understanding of fasting.
Besides the Day of Atonement, Lent is the only season where fasting comes as one of those automatic practices of the season. Rather than an ascetic practice of harsh self-discipline, the Lenten fast is characterized by a going-without in order to make space. Our lives can be so insanely jam-packed with ‘busy’ and activities. All good things, I’m sure, but when we can’t stop, we can’t remember. Lent asks us to remember; therefore, we must make space by subtracting something from our lives. It can be thought of as a trigger or creating an abundance of time. Some individuals like to go without something so that every time they crave it, they orient themselves toward God and remember (in their own small way) the suffering of the Son of Man. Others are in seasons where they feel led to give up something like social media so that it creates more open space in their schedule in which they’re able to incorporate a spiritual discipline or practice that draws them to God and remembering Christ’s journey through life and to the cross.
Thinking similarly to silence and solitude, space allows us room in our busy lives and minds to reorient toward Christ’s salvific work on the Cross and death’s defeat through the resurrection: the absolute pinnacles of Christianity.
Regular space, and therefore reorientation, allows the salvific gift and defeat of death to become more personal. More than sitting through a service, our time with God allows him to speak deeply to us in all our wounds and history and say, “I have chosen you.” Making space allows us to sink into who we are, where we are, and who Christ is to us in this particular season of life. A friend of mine describes Lent as “a messy season, a season where things get muddy and windblown, where we discover forgotten litter and broken limbs under the snow. Lent is a path we may choose to deal with this mess.” We allow honesty and humility to melt us into a real depth within ourselves. Here we are able to beg the realities of this Lenten season, do I believe God is who he says he is, do I believe I am who God says I am, and what is in the way?
Give to God:
We give God a wee bit of the space and time he deserves. We give God the space and time that we deserve. We give our consciousness over to God so that we may remember the work he has done and the sacrifice that Christ has given. We open space in ourselves for God to reach through the chaos of our daily distractions and toils. We stack hands with the cosmic brotherhood and say, “Amen” in realization of the miraculous life, death, and resurrection of Christ as well as the continual work being done in us, so that we may one day commune again with our Maker.
Give to Others:
By giving ourselves space to remember the realities and truths that our faith tradition is based in, we give a gift to others. Many people are familiar with the term, “hurt people hurt people,” meaning those that are wounded wound others. We are all wounded, but for this specific season we are invited to look at the mess and offer it to God. By taking the blinders off to the state of our inner selves, we help the world around us: we stop operating out of hurt, we start viewing others with more grace, and hopefully start gifting ourselves and others the forgiveness we- and they deserve. Further than this, however, many also choose to abstain from something that in fact releases some of their funds and/or time to give to others. The money we typically spend on eating out, chocolate, liquor, cable subscriptions, you name it, can really add up over those 40 days and become quite a nest egg for someone else’s well being. The time that we typically spend in digital worlds adds up to some significant time where our hands could be doing something for someone else. Whatever small or large amount that may be, it could give someone clean water, feed an individual or family, clothe a cold body, or countless other things that our money and time can really do.
Lent is becoming one of those ‘sexy’ things in modern evangelical America. Many churches and congregations that have never heard of or practiced Lent are beginning to scratch the surface of what this season is all about. My hope and prayer is that we can employ this season and it’s practices to put our inner worlds and our understandings of who God really is in a truer place. We do this by remembering that the season is an invitation into making space, sinking in, giving to God, and giving to others—Lent isn’t about self-deprecation, it’s about Christ’s life, His death, His coming resurrection, and that our lives and death and the lives of others could be much more because of what He has given.
Referenced above: Dave Meserve of Urban Skye and his “A Short Guide to Lent” check out more resources from Urban Skye, who they are, and what they’re up to at www.UrbanSkye.org.
Other Lenten guides and resources that I recommend for this journey:
From the Transforming Center: http://resources.transformingcenter.org/collections/lent-resources/products/lent-a-season-of-returning
From an artist friend of mine (Scott Erickson): http://40-days-prayer-book.myshopify.com/products/prayer-40-days-of-practice-softcover-book