Lent can traumatize.
Predictably LENT began with Ash Wednesday – a first day of fasting in Western Christianity. It occurs 46 days (40 fasting days, if the six Sundays, which are not days of fast, are excluded) before Easter.
As most practicing Christians know, Ash Wednesday derives its name from the practice of blessing ashes made from palm branches blessed on the previous year’s Palm Sunday. The irony of this year was Ash Wednesday shared February 14th with non-other than St. Valentine’s Day, a highly commercialize, thinly surfaced, sweet affair.
Although the account AElfrie of Eynsham shows that on about the year 1000 the ashes were “strewn” on the head; the marking of the forehead is the method that now prevails in English-speaking countries. It is the only one envisaged in the Occasional Offices of the Anglican Church of Papua New Guinea Church of Papua, a publication described as “noticeably Anglo-Catholic in character”.
These some odd 40 days remind worshipers of their sinfulness; clearly, their mortality; and finally – their need to repent in time. Living life authentically connects…”as he breathed the chill night air, he was no longer afraid.”
Our Men’s group at St. Stephens Episcopal Church met these fasting days head on. Some began by positing that Lent was passé – no longer relevant in their personal lives. Others attempted to bring a twenty first century revision (spin) to this outdated period as well.
Some wanted to go directly to Bonnie Ware’s “The Top Five Regrets of the Dying.” Ware, a palliative care professional, who helps terminal patients facing the last three to 12 weeks of their lives, wrote of their regrets: “I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me” (… when people clearly look back, they discover they have not honored even a half of their dreams)…and I wish I hadn’t worked so hard” (…they missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship). Unfulfillment haunts.
Lent in a way can be seen as a recovery period. The recovering addict is often counseled to take a “spiritual inventory,” which deals with one’s behavior toward another. What do I need to clear up in my personal life?
Alcoholics Anonymous, (AA), has its twelve steps composed in the early I930’s, with the aid of Catholic Nuns in Akron, Ohio; Christianity has its seven (7) sacraments: Baptism…..Eucharist…..Confirmation…..Reconciliation (Confession)…..Anointing of the Sick…..Marriage…..Holy Orders. It is not difficult to conclude that these spiritual steps have direct kindred to the Lenten Season. They make it matter.
Robert Dilday, managing editor of the Religious Herald, fellow parishioner, with his weekly meditation for the Second Sunday in Lent, edged nicely in to Lenten thought. Quoting Parker Palmer about a life led in God’s image, Dilday envisions the task of becoming truly human, is to listen carefully to our deepest self and nurture an environment in which it can flourish. Bringing it to what it was meant to be takes deep commitment and serious work.
Historian Shelby Foote wrote to novelist Walker Percy about life distances from one place to another: “As if across a valley, a valley that I suppose would be called Unbelief – or Belief.” Questions of faith abide. It always comes to THAT.
Easter Day is April 1. Much is to be done in seeking and finding that growing humility, which opens doors for new possibilities. Giving up something for Lent is traditional, and easier. Opening spiritual doors is not for the faint of heart.
Dilday rightly concludes that answering these personal challenges takes patience – probably a lifetime of it. Lent isn’t nearly long enough to see it through. It offers plenty of space to begin …we’ll have to settle for that.