What are we talking about today?

Some days have themes. I don't necessarily post something in each of these topic areas every week.

Sunday: Church-related or spiritual things.
Monday: Running.
Tuesday: Books.
Wednesday: Transportation.
Friday: Green living.

01 March 2017

Ashes to Ashes

For Ash Wednesday, this is going to be more like a spiritual Sunday-ish post than a Wednesday one, so if that's not what you came for, now's the time to bail. See you tomorrow.

Chadwick died on an Ash Wednesday, which even for him was a pretty odd gesture, but that made it difficult to conjure up any will to observe Lent for a couple years. This year, though, since I've given my life a hard reboot, it's time to rejoin the Christian calendar and see what this new era of Lenten observances will bring.

I searched freeimages.com for "Lent," and what I got was
this, entitled "Spring Church Exterior." I'm not super-
clear what that means, but it's pretty. So I guess this is as
Ash Wednesday of an image as I'm going to get.
Source: George Bosela on freeimages.com.
However, I do want to make it clear at the outset that I am no Lent expert--I started observing Lent as a teenager in an "everybody's doing it" kind of way. I've kinda become the local "expert" anyway for many Evangelical friends who've wanted to jump into Lent over the years, based solely on my experience on this journey that other folks don't have, but everything I know is also available to you via either Google or by diving in and experiencing it yourself. (Although I will add that the first time I read The Sound of Music, at age 20, it changed my view of Lent dramatically. That was the year I started taking it seriously as a tool for spiritual growth.)

One of my "new city" challenges is that I have no idea where there's an Ash Wednesday service near me, and I may not find out before it's too late. (Also? I can walk into anywhere in Texas with ashes on my face and no one will blink. I don't know yet if that's true in Ohio, so I kinda need an after-work service.) But that's a small thing, since I've missed Ash Wednesday service more years than not. Especially when I was still living in my parents' house--I can just imagine the looks on their very Evangelical faces if I walked in with ashes on my forehead. No.

Anyway, I'm here today to help, not reflect on my non-ecumenical upbringing. This FAQ is cobbled together from questions I've been asked often over the years.

1. You do what? But isn't that a Catholic thing? Do you judge people who don't do it?
a) Lent.
b) Yes. Also many other branches of Christendom. You should maybe get out more.
c) No. That would be ridiculous. You do what works for you.

2. Do you have any Lenten resources to recommend?
I don't, although I'm pretty excited about this Arts and Faith series this year. Google, friends. Google.

3. Should I announce my fast on Facebook?
This has been more of a touchy subject than I could possibly have anticipated, but this is what I usually say:
  • If you're asking me as a friend who's done this for a while and has some experience of the value of people knowing my fast vs not: then no, you shouldn't.
  • If you're asking because you're looking for some accountability, then I'd suggest you find an offline human, or if it must be online, that you approach someone you trust via private message.
  • If you're asking because giving up Facebook is your fast and you want to let everyone know where you're going, I'd still suggest not, but you need to do what you think is best if your absence will upset anyone. Again, you can probably do this via private message. (I've gone weeks without visiting Facebook before, and it's a nice exercise in humility when you find out how well that world keeps on turning without your presence in it.)
  • If you're asking for spiritual guidance, I refer you to Matthew 6:16-18.

4. Do I have to go meatless on Fridays?
Are you participating in Lent as part of your faith tradition, and if so, does that faith tradition ask you to go meatless? If so, in order to fully participate with your community: yes. If you're creating your own community or going it alone, then you have a bit more leeway to decide which elements of the traditional fast you're going to adopt. More on community anon.

5. Did you know it doesn't really add up to 40 days?
Yes. Sundays don't count as part of the 40 days because Christians celebrate Jesus' resurrection on those days, and that celebration supersedes the mourning/fasting of Lent.

6. Does it matter what I give up?
Yes, it matters, but maybe not in the way you're asking. (And it's okay if you haven't decided yet.) What are you trying to learn from Lent? What areas of your life need growth? Think about that and let that shape your fast. Also keep in mind that your fast, if it's helping you learn/grow, may not be something you want to stop at Easter. You can absolutely use these six weeks as a starting block.

This is the thing about Lent that tends to get me the most angry/corrective comments, to be honest, for a couple reasons:
  • Some folks are under the impression that people only give up sins that they should have already been trying to remove from their lives. Now, if Lent helps you do that, I'm not about to tell you not to. Six weeks of focused intent may be you push you need to finally deal with that thing that's been nagging at you. But that doesn't have to be what you do, and I agree that only avoiding a spiritual stumbling block for six weeks per year is maybe not the ideal approach, if it's true life change you seek.
  • There are others who will say that giving up chocolate or TV or whatever is silly. Pope Francis made some incredibly relevant and thought-provoking comments on that very subject a couple years back. Here's the thing: It's not so much what you're giving up; it's what you replace it with. If you give up Facebook and replace it with a TV show, then maybe pause to ask yourself what you're trying to accomplish. If you give up caffeine and replace it with being unbearable for the entire month of March, you may not be sharing the peace of Christ with others quite as much as you intended.

7. What if I don't start on Ash Wednesday or fizzle out by the end?
It happens. That's why the Israelites prayed, "The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness." (That's Lamentations 3:22-23.) Choose your favourite cliché for making a new beginning every day, and go do it.

8. What else do I need to know?
Get in there and do it, and be open to what changes in you. If you have a community to do this with, by all means, embrace that community whole-heartedly and do this together. God has placed you in a community for good reason, and fasting together as a shared experience can multiply your joys and divide your struggles. Do not neglect your community this Lent. Embrace them.

No community to share with? Having to do this alone? I hear ya. We can be Lenten Twitter buddies, if you like (send me a Tweet or a DM to let me know that we're doing this, though, because "become a mind reader" is not what I'm doing for Lent). Growth and joy can still happen even on a solitary journey, so don't despair.

Have a blessed Lenten season, friends.


Crystal Collier said...

Actually, I have a religious fast once a month for 24 hours--no food or water. I find that religious reminder of my dependence on God more fulfilling than a big, once-a-year thing.

Tangoflower said...

Nono r in the Nati will judge the ash face 😀 There's a Catholic Church with a service on nearly every block of the Westside but St Francis right down the hill from IKRON has one at 6

Su Wilcox said...

@Crystal: That's awesome.

@Tangoflower: I should have read this sooner! Someone from church tweeted me early this morning to tell me I was in the clear, but by then it was storming and I wasn't heading out any earlier than I had to.