What my Lent should Look Like

10 Mar

I do have a few posts in the works about our recent travels and time spent around London that will include lots of pictures, but in the meantime, I implore you to read this and offer any and all comments!

Cross of St. Cuthbert, Durham Cathedral yard, Durham, England

Mardi Gras, Ash Wednesday, and the whole Lenten season has completely sneaked up on me this year.  Perhaps it’s the fact that I missed church this week because of a cold, or that I’m just generally far away from my normal liturgical community, or am consumed with thoughts of other things, for better or worse.  But I have felt convicted by the tiniest little hints at what other people in my life (and cyberspace) are doing to mark this time of year–little mentions on facebook about giving up facebook, or fried food, or coffee; the suggestion to download some free music (which I did) written specifically for the season; and even the sweet suggestion from a friend to try out Lenten services at one or both of the very famous cathedrals I happen to be living close to at the moment (how did I NOT think of that?)  Eric and I have discussed, in the past, the purpose of giving up something for lent–how to do so worshipfully, not just as a personal challenge like a New Years resolution; can the very process of doing away with an idol actually become and idol in itself? and, if I were to give something up, what on earth would it be?  I’ve often thought food items, like chocolate, sweets in general (eek!), or coffee, would almost be selfish–like using a liturgical season as a holy diet.  Facebook would probably be a good one, but not this year when it’s such a vital part of staying connected to my home family and keeping them apprised of Everett’s growth (though admittedly, I should probably reign in my constant compulsive checking in).  Television? maybe.  But what about, despite the rather explicit tradition of surrendering pleasures of the flesh, non-material things?

For instance, would it be appropriate to focus on giving up being defensive in arguments with Eric? my tendency towards self-pity when a kind gesture of mine isn’t received in the exact way that I have manufactured in my mind would be deserved? my judgment of others? my selfishness with my time? my burning desire for things and more things–beautiful things, sometimes very good things, but things nonetheless that take the place in my heart where Christ should be.

Or could Lent for me be about adding something to my life that is missing?  Daily Bible reading is an act that has terrified me for years; something which, despite many friends’ and my husbands’ loving and dutiful encouragement towards, strikes terror into my heart.  The superficial reasons for this date to my first religion course in college when I came to face the fact that translations are imperfect, as were the men who compiled the cannon, as were the men and women who taught me about Scripture growing up, which led to a serious distrust of everything I thought I knew about the Bible and my own ability to read it without completely misinterpreting every word.  More deeply, however, I don’t like to be told that I am wrong.  I don’t like to confront uncomfortable truths, and I really LOVE to believe I have a lot of stuff figured out based on my own ability to reason with the world, act in love as much as possible, and rely on what others tell me about the Bible without developing a relationship with it for myself.  As I write this, the thought occurs to me that, hmmmm, maybe this IS what my Lent needs to be about.

But where to start?  This is another terrifying question to answer–at the very beginning? with books I’ve never actually read before? with the psalms or proverbs–they’re fairly easy to digest, right? with the New Testament? Should I find a guide, a devotional book, a schedule to follow rigidly? Or do I just close my eyes, place the imposing volume on the table spine down and see where it falls open?

And how much time each day?  I’m prone to give up on things like this when I falter just a little or stray from the plan; very quick to dismiss it as useless if I don’t meet the mark I’ve set for myself, even if it was arbitrary to being with.  (Ha, and I take such pride in being goal-oriented and industrious. . .more proof that humans are terribly, sometimes miserably, complicated).  I have had very fruitful experiences with reading a long passage but just meditating over one line, sometimes less than a verse.  But once again, I tend to mistrust those experiences rather than relish in them as the still small voice of revelation.

Sometimes I wish, quite honestly, that I were a brand new Christian.  Maybe this is an oldest child kind of complex, this idea that since I’ve been a Christian my whole life, really, I should know what I’m doing by now.  If I were new at it, maybe it would be easier to admit that I need a lot of help.  A few years ago now I was ever so pleased to develop a friendship with someone who was just embarking on this crazy journey and was struck by what a blessing it was to experience Christ and the scriptures through her eyes–eyes that were in many ways fresh, but in many other ways more heartbroken over her human condition than I had ever truly been.  Her honesty about our brokenness was convicting, and her honesty with me and in her approach to Christ, her marriage, her other relationships with friends and family, perspectives on sermons, and living in community never ceases to convict and humble me whenever we speak (despite my, again oldest child, tendency to pretend like I know it all already).

This same friend has been one of the most faithful to encourage me towards actively developing my relationship with Christ–suggesting sermons to listen to, ways to pray, scripture to read–and always so earnest, in the same way someone might say, “oh my goodness, this recipe, you MUST try it, it’s to die for!” or, “have you heard this album or read this book yet? it’s really amazing.”  In other words, NOT in the way that I think many long-time Christians (and indeed, non-Christians) might be wary of–that condescending, patronizing, dripping-with-judgment and holier-than-thou-ness attitute that is so often and unfortunately a part of the language we feel the need to use with one another.

So perhaps, for this Lent season, what I need is to put on the clothes of the New Christian, the naivete, the wonder, the lack of cynicism, the earnestness, and above all, the fresh awe and admiration for my Savior–after all, Lent is also about new life and rebirth–and crack open my dusty Bible as though I’d never seen it before.  This still scares me, and I would love your thoughts on how to get started.


Posted by on March 10, 2011 in Et Cetera, Writings


Tags: , , , , ,

5 responses to “What my Lent should Look Like

  1. Katy Hutson

    March 10, 2011 at 1:36 pm

    Thanks for this lovely Lenten reading this morning, Em- you’re encouraging my Lent by questioning yours! “can the very process of doing away with an idol actually become and idol in itself?”- the big question, isn’t it- thanks for putting it so well. No really grand answers here on how to begin Bible reading. When Kenny and I are regular about it, we tend to pick a book that intrigues and begin. I’d tend to think a gospel would be a good idea during Lent. Lots more thoughts, but gotta finish breakfast and get this little baby out the door soon. Looking forward to hearing more about your journey.
    As for fasting- myself, I’m one of those whose adding this year not subtracting- a little time for spiritual writing and thought each day. Like you just did.

  2. Gwen

    March 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm

    I feel a little funny commenting since, as you know, I’m not a particularly religious person… I was frustrated and turned off long ago by many aspects of the Catholicism I grew up with, and with the tendency, in most religions, to insist on a certain vision of a Creator (leaving little room for personal interpretation).

    But here’s the thing: the very act of thinking and worrying about finding something enriching and purposeful to do during Lent means– to me, anyway– that you are right where you should be. It’s not a bad thing to feel uncertain… To believe that you have all the answers, understand scripture thoroughly, and can worship without questioning, means (speaking of the general “you” here) you’ve lost sight of one of the most important aspects of spirituality. It should be a constant journey, a constant reinterpretation and reassessment of what those words mean and how they relate to your life, your thoughts, your heart as your life experience accumulates. We change every day, and so the meaning changes for us every day, too.

    I really believe that both religion and spirituality should be *very* personal– one of my favorite quotes, scribbled on a scrap of paper during a radio interview: “The face of God is like looking into a mirror- everyone sees something different.” I wish I could remember what episode it was from, but the program was Speaking of Faith, which is now called Being… highly recommended.

    Anyway… I hope you choose to pursue this during Lent. I admire the strength and community that you find in religion; let your curiousity and uncertainty guide you. 😉
    Maybe I’ll go pick up my Bible myself.

  3. Irem

    March 10, 2011 at 4:35 pm

  4. Beth

    March 10, 2011 at 11:26 pm

    I love the questions you are asking and feel impelled to keep asking more questions of my own with you. I also have felt at a loss this season with how to observe Lent. In the past I’ve noticed that the more rigorously I get into Lent, the more I’m prepared to enter into the joy of Easter. When I skip the season of preparation, the big day passes like any other Sunday. So, I’m glad to be encouraged by your struggling because it gives me a little nudge to go ahead and struggle with it too, else I just let it pass by again.

    I like the idea of adding something like reading scripture to your life, and I think that doing so would necessarily mean you were taking out something as well, in order to make that time. Like you, I struggle a lot with Scripture and feel at times like I’m arguing with it the whole time I’m reading. But, when I don’t want to do this, the gospels are the best place for me to really confront my faith. The simplicity of narrative and the crushing simplicity of Jesus’s demands make it harder for me to rationalize away the meaning of scripture. For Lent, one year, I tried to just meditate on Mark’s account of the wilderness: ” And the Sprit immediately drove him out into the wilderness. And he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And he was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to him. ” I love how the whole season is condensed into three sentences.

    Another thing I like to do is to work through TS Eliot’s Ash Wednesday. I think this year, I’m going to try to fast from frivolous words. Let me know what scripture you decide on, maybe I’ll join you.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: