I think this year I will observe Lent. I found a great set of questions on Rachel Held Evan’s blog that helped me make the decision to do so. I really like her (and her blog), even more now that I know she agrees with one of my basic tenets I hold close to my heart: that really, everyone is broken.
I had already been thinking about Lent this year, thinking about changing a behavior, thinking about the timing, thinking a lot of things. When I saw that RHE’s feed had a post on ideas for Lent I was all ears. The first question I read on her list almost knocked the breath out of me:
When I wake up on Resurrection Sunday morning, how will I be different?
Well. In all the times I have observed Lent, I don’t think I ever took the time to ask myself that question.
Growing up in a Pentecostal church gave me a pretty decent grasp of the bible, but did not help me learn anything about the history of the church. I mean that seriously. We never learned about the differences between catholic and protestant, or about how communion is different in different churches, or why some people baptise and some sprinkle. For the most part that stuff wasn’t even on my radar at all.
Over the past, say, 10 years or so, I have met many people who have opened my eyes to a different way of looking at my faith: a way that is steeped in history and culture. While I find it creates for a much messier faith, I think it is also much more beautiful. Over those ten years I have attended pentecostal churches, non-denominational churches, emerging churches, catholic churches, episcopal churches, baptist churches, and methodist churches. Each one had its purpose to increase my education and help shape me into the person I am now. Each church helped shape my faith in a different way.
So now, even though I attend a baptist church, I still keep in mind the little bit of education on Church traditions and history I’ve gotten over the years. For instance, even though my current church doesn’t follow it, I love the church calendar. I fell in love with it when I attended one of the Episcopal churches in Houston. I love how each church season creates a new focus in your walk with Christ. How we focus on Jesus’ sacrifice building up to Easter and we celebrate his birth in Advent. The first time I received ashes on Ash Wednesday I spent the rest of the evening feeling like I was walking on holy ground – or better yet, as if my body was marked as holy. I never knew there could be so much holiness in an action, but I found that there was.
While I try to observe the church calendar I don’t always have it all figured out. Like others, I’m sure, I am learning as I go. I always viewed Lent as a way to put myself in Jesus’ shoes when he fasted 40 days in the wilderness. I knew it was supposed to make me a better person and draw me closer to God, but those goals have always been pretty undefined.
The question: “How will I be different?” makes me look at Lent as more than just the very generic “self-improvement” or “exercise in holiness.” Suddenly I don’t want to look at Lent either of those things, or even as a time for me to give up my bad habits (I should give those up anyways) but more as a time to remove something from my life in the hope that after 40 days without it I might possibly be more Christ-like. Suddenly my priority has shifted from looking internally in a selfish way, but looking internally in a holy way. I like this.
With all this in mind, I’ll spend the next few days praying and trying to decide what to “give up.” I think I’m going to go to one of the local churches that has a Ash Wednesday service, too, since I don’t think mine will have one. I don’t know that I necessarily “look forward” to the next few weeks, but I do hope they are helpful to me in the long run. We shall see.