Thursday, March 10, 2011

Seven Sacred Seasons: Lent

Lent begins today. Officially, yesterday was Ash Wednesday, and while many people start Lent on Ash Wednesday, it's really post-service, post-ashes-on-the-forehead that you begin Lent. At the Gathering, we started Lent after our service was over.

The first year we did Lent, people were taken aback: "I didn't realize the Gathering was Catholic." Of course we weren't - a radically congregation Catholic church would be an even more bizarre phenomenon than a radically congregational Protestant church. No minister? No ecclesiastic hierarchy? No, we definitely weren't Catholic, but we really weren't very good Protestants either.

In our search for post-denominational structure, we turned to the more traditional approaches to frame our year. Lent and Easter, Advent and Christmas, were the two primary seasons we started with, then worked out from there. What was wonderful about these holidays was that they came ready made. We could get liturgical resources for our services for Lent without difficulty.

Helping our primarily Evangelical congregation understand the value of Lent was another matter entirely. "What's the point in me giving up coffee for 40 days? How will that bring me closer to Christ?" In our first Lenten experiences, our reply was how the sacrifice was symbolic of Christ's time in the desert, a minor fast with major implications. In later years, we challenged our group to find things to sacrifice that went beyond coffee or chocolate. In those years, I gave up swearing, or listening to music that didn't reference my faith. One year stands out, when we encouraged the congregation to ask others what they ought to give up. That was the year I gave up giving unsolicited advice. I took that a step further the next year by practicing reticence - I did not speak unless spoken to. It drove a few people crazy, as my normal mode of conversation is loquacious. It was a great experience - I felt the burden of responsibility to carry a conversation lifted. I no longer felt the need to fill in the uncomfortable silences. It was great. 

Some folks innovated by adding a spiritual discipline to their life. By doing so, they ended up sacrificing as a latent benefit. A friend chose to read through the Gospel of Matthew over Lent. Another endeavored to actively encourage one new person each day.

We celebrated Lent with austere decor in the physical space we worshiped: our slides were less colorful, less bombastic. Our song choices were focused on the desert experiences rather than the celebration. One year, we collectively gave up singing along in the worship times - the band did all the music instrumentally, as a time of contemplation. When we finally got to sing at Easter, it was such a welcome change, to finally open our mouths and sing along - the celebration wasn't contrived at all.

This year, as the Lenten journey begins, I'm still uncertain about what to give up. My job and children demands sacrifices of me. Don't I deserve to just keep suffering as a parent and busy academic? Do I really need to take away one more thing I enjoy for the period? So I'm likely engaging in an additive approach this year: reading a spiritual classic instead of reading for pleasure. It might be wimping out, but given that I haven't practiced Lent since the Gathering ended in the fall of '08, I'll be satisfied with baby steps.

As always, feel free to steal the slides for wallpapers or for your own worship experiences. I know it's a bit dated, but this was playing off Nike's "Just Do It" marketing strategy.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous9:37 PM

    I read a fantastic article arguing for taking things up for Lent (in this case, chocolate) the other day:

    I haven't figured out what I am doing for lent yet. Giving up worrying about my future might be a good idea - especially if I can replace it with something useful, like reading less theology and more for pleasure. (It's hard when your hobby becomes your job.)