Sunday, February 26, 2006

Showing My Cards

Ever since I’ve brought up the subject of Ash Wednesday and Lent, some of you want to know, before you'll go much further down that path with me, where I’m coming from and where I’m going with it.

So let me be clear—I’m not about trying to convert anyone to my religious beliefs or to my denomination. I’m aware of regular readers of this blog who are Baptist, Presbyterian, Mormon, Assemblies of God, Methodist, Catholic, and Anglican; I want you all to feel welcome here. I’m blogging about Lent because it’s such a helpful season to me spiritually, and I hope that the insights I gain as I walk through it will be helpful to others.

(To show my cards a bit--more on this in posts to come--this Lent I'm especially focusing on being more loving and less frequently angry and impatient with my family, less selfish and more sacrificial. Can anyone relate or have any wisdom to share? If so, stick with me!)

I'm also interested in building understanding between denominations. Lent is usually thought of as something just the Catholics and Orthodox do, but the tradition began in the early apostolic church for the benefit of all believers. And I believe its emphases are still of benefit to us all, especially if we’re interested in transformation (aka sanctification). As Frederica Mathewes-Greene puts it:

[I]f we're Christian we're always hearing that God loves us just the way we are, and that Jesus has paid for all our sins, so it looks like there's nothing left to do. We can spend this life watching TV. Yet we have to ask: why are our lives so tedious and uninspired? Why do we who claim to be Christian behave no better (kinder, more justly, more honestly) than those who don't? Is this whole life just waiting around to go to heaven, killing time at the mall?

When we read the New Testament it's clear that early Christians experienced something a lot more exciting than we do-something transforming, in fact. In the Bible and other early writings they describe "life in Christ" in terms that are vigorous rather than stagnant; they were being changed day by day into the likeness of his glory. The most distinctive thing about the way early Christians describe their lives is *energy*. God is at work! Look out! Amazing things are happening!

…If you want to be transformed, you'll have to change. If you're going to change, you have to admit you need to change. You have to look inside, where it's dusty and cobwebbed, and let the light start to shine in.

This is why repentance feels like a relief. It's admitting the truth about ourselves-stuff God already knows, but which we go to exhausting lengths to deny. Once it's in the open, we can deal with it, and start to see things change. We may even see miracles, even if they're just in our own behavior: more hopeful, more compassionate, less cranky. (The rest of this article is here.)

And that’s really where I’m coming from. I’m all about transformation. I’ve seen God work in powerful ways in my life, (here's an example) and I’m not the woman I used to be, praise the Lord. I’m not the woman I will be, either—thank God!

I’m on a journey—and if you’re following Jesus Christ, you are too. We’ll never be perfect this side of heaven, but we don’t have to travel in the same old ruts. We can form some new, better ruts--that's what Lent does for me.

Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up. (James 4:7-10)


molly said...

I hadn't really ever thought much of Lent...until I had a good Catholic friend (who had converted from Reformed Protestantism, no less).

It was really cool to hear about it through her...I'd always considered it a 'works-based' religious notion...but hearing it through her perspective sure made it sound like a beautiful celebration, no different than the holidays we consider 'spiritually worth celebrating.' Who knows...maybe one day our family will celebrate Lent too.

Nice post. :)

Kim from Hiraeth said...

I'm a Presbyterian (PCA) and our church celebrates lent through corporate fasting and prayer. We fast on Wednesdays, beginning with Ash Wednesday and break our fast together after a time of prayer.

I, too, look forward to the lenten season as a time to think more deeply and seriously about the magnitude of our salvation purchased by the sacrifice of Christ.

Jennifer said...

I grew up as a Baptist girl too, and never even learned about Lent until I was an adult. Last year was the first time I made any serious attempt to observe it, and it was really a blessing to me. Of course, last year was the first time I was part of a church that observed it, and that really helped me understand even more. I'm looking forward to it again this year.

Michelle said...

Sorry to get in this late, as I am catching up on your posts somewhat. Here is a link to a book I am going through this Lent:

It is also by Frederica.


At A Hen's Pace said...


That's what I'm reading too!

Now I'm wondering which Michelle you are? Fr. Athanasius' wife, I think?