|Me and My Friend Karen, Ash Wednesday Selfie 2015|
Now, I love me some Christmas and Easter, don't get me wrong -- but Easter makes no sense to me without Lent in the same way that Christmas makes no sense to me without Advent. And I wanted to talk about that today because there are so many misconceptions out there about Lent and what it means to Christians today. In case anyone's interested, here's what Lent means to me.
|"The Picture of Dorian Gray," oil on canvas, by Alvin Albright (1944), Art Institute of Chicago|
Lent is when sin gets really personal, when we acknowledge our own brokenness, admit to ourselves and to God that we personally have an addiction to sin that we cannot overcome on our own, ask for His forgiveness and surrender to the gift of His grace and mercy. I am in bondage to sin and cannot free myself. I am the one who has sinned against God in my thoughts, in my words, and in my actions -- by the things I have done, as well as the things I should have done but left undone. I have not loved God with my whole heart, and I have certainly not loved my neighbors and my enemies as much as I love myself.
So on Ash Wednesday, the greasy ashes on our foreheads are a visible reminder of the brevity of our time here on Earth. The ashes symbolize our repentance for our sin and our desire to be freed from our earthly desires and fit for eternal life in Christ.
Sounds like a bummer, doesn't it? No trumpet fanfares, no "Joy To the World," no pretty poinsettias or fragrant lilies for Lent! But there's still beautiful music, like the anthem "Create In Me" by Terre Johnson that our choir sang last night, based on Psalm 51.
Because we go into Lent looking inward and discovering that our hearts look like this:
|My Heart At the Beginning of Lent|
|My Heart on Easter Sunday|
So... How will I meaningfully observe Lent this year? Am I giving up wine and chocolate? No meat on Fridays until after Easter?
Well, if I really felt like wine, chocolate and meat were distracting me spiritually, I might give them up for Lent. You don't have to necessarily give ANYTHING up for Lent to be a "good Christian," by the way -- a lot of Christians I know like to ADD something to their lives for Lent, like daily Lenten devotions, attending additional worship services, 40 acts of kindness of charity... Anything that makes them feel closer to God and more spiritually focused.
|"Cypresses," oil on canvas, by Vincent van Gogh (1889), The Metropolitan Museum of Art|
So I'm adding these daily Lenten devotions, but not as an end unto themselves. I'm using the devotions to help me stay focused on the season of Lent amid all of the shiny distractions and earthy mirages that lure us away from what is real, what is true, and what really matters. One "golden calf" I know I'm guilty of worshipping is materialism.
I'm not talking about diamonds and furs and judging people by how much money they have... I'm talking about my weakness for buying specialty quilting tools, patterns, books, magazines, baking gadgets, and ACTUAL material -- FABRIC!! Now, baking, quilting and reading are not activities that threaten my relationship with God in and of themselves, but I'm thinking about how enmeshed these activities have become with our consumer culture and how much (or how little) of this stuff I actually need. And I'm mindful of the warning in the parable of the rich man in Luke 12:16-21. How close am I to tearing down my own
|Wine and Chocolate: What I'm NOT Giving Up For Lent!|