Sunday, February 24, 2013

What about this LENT thing?

February 13, 2013, was Ash Wednesday. On that day I posted a prayer as my Facebook status: "O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen." (from Evening Prayer, ELW page 317) This has led to a conversation with one of my cousins, which I expand here. What is it about Lent? When I was a teenager I was amazed to discover I had friends who were very active in their churches, who did not know what Lent is. Being from a liturgical church tradition (my bio begins, "I was born at Iowa LUTHERAN Hospital...") I had always observed Lent, always "given something up" for Lent, always counted the days to Easter by the weeks of Lent. There was a time when Lent was dedicated to focusing on Christ's sacrifice for sinners and to shape our response to that. I suppose that's still part of the emphasis, but it has taken on a more practical approach, at least in my mind. I use this time of Lent to practice some of the classical aspects of a life of faith: prayer and fasting, doing good works for others, giving generously, and giving and receiving forgiveness. Perhaps there's a sacrificial element in devoting my time to these things rather than to endless GLEE reruns, but I view it more as an opportunity to live more deeply into my commitment as a follower of Jesus. In my Ash Wednesday sermon I referred to Lent as a "six-week trial period", during which we get to try out some new behaviors, perspectives, and attitudes about what it means to be faithful. By the end of 6 weeks, if we've been intentional, these new things are now routine. Another aspect of intentional faithfulness is setting time aside for particular things--prayer, scripture reading, worship, Bible study, service to neighbor. These are all "good ideas" but they often get pushed to the bottom of our to-do list unless we are intentional about them. Lent is this intentional time, a season of life set aside for a particular purpose. I used the above prayer in worship for Ash Wednesday because Lent feels like a journey--being open (opened?) up to experience God in a new way. If we don't believe God does anything new, we'll probably miss all the things God is doing. The first step on this journey, I think, is turning toward God (the literal meaning of "repentance")and taking one step on the journey on which God leads us.