Today is the first day of the Lenten season, which is a very important time of the year for a great many Christians. It is a period leading up to Good Friday, which remembers the crucifixion and burial of Jesus of Nazareth, and Easter three days hence when Jesus emerged from his stony tomb and defeated hell and death once for all. That is pretty heady stuff; a source of joy for the Christian and a source of confusion and/or contempt for many non-Christians. Being a Christian, I am very much aware of the significance of Good Friday and Easter. Those days are among the most important of my calendar.
But what about Lent? I have been a part of the evangelical Protestant branch of Christianity, and not very much was said about Lent and it’s kick-off event, Ash Wednesday, in the churches which I attended before we landed at our latest church about a decade ago. During the time that we have spent with our current body of worshippers I have been more purposefully introduced to this tradition of Ash Wednesday and the Lenten fast, but if I was asked to explain to a curious observer just what this season is all about, I fear that I would fail miserably to do it justice.
That being the case, I intend to chronicle the next 47 days of Lent (I think it is 47 days, but I am not even particularly sure about that), hoping to share with you, dear readers, my growing understanding of Lent and how I will respond to it this season. This will be a voyage of discovery for both you and me, as I cannot predict what I will learn as I begin this journey tonight. Only one thing I know; I will emerge from this better informed about Lent and about if, and/or how, the Holy Spirit will work in and through me during this observance. What I hope is that you will learn about this topic with me. Here goes.
Today is Ash Wednesday, and I did not go to church tonight. I wanted to go, but I got home from work later than usual after working two night shifts in a row before working the day shift today. The upshot of that is that I am completely drained and had no energy left to drive downtown to the upstairs office of my church, which meets in an old but functioning movie theater and has its office in another building down the block. I’m not entirely sure what the format for this evening’s observance of Ash Wednesday was going to be, but I do know that at the end of it I would have heard about our sinfulness and mortality and how Jesus was the answer to this problem, and that a cross made of wet ashes would grace my forehead when I left the building to somehow symbolize this.
That’s not much, is it? Of course, I would be able to tell you much more about it if I had gone tonight but that doesn’t really let me off of the hook. I can tell you all about Easter and Christmas even though those events are weeks and months away, and I can even tell you a bit about Hanukkah and the Hijra. I can tell you about Washington’s victory over the Hessian mercenaries and Neil Armstrong’s ‘giant leap for mankind’. If Ash Wednesday and Lent are worth observing, why can’t I tell you anything of substance about them? Why would such a poverty of knowledge exist? My bad!
I will be able to tell you all about these two topics tomorrow because I will google it to find out for myself, but it would be cheating to do that tonight, I think. The sad fact is that I don’t really know enough about Ash Wednesday to explain it to a traveler from Mars, and one of the first benefits of the lent season is that I will learn why I will celebrate it and it’s kick-off day in the first place.
One thing that I do know about this season is that something is to be given up until Easter Sunday comes along. The purpose is that when you think of that certain thing that you often eat, or the television that you like to watch, or the newspaper that you usually read, you will be reminded that you are fasting from these things so that you can spend that time meditating on your God and your faith. That’s the plan at least. Many times however people just fill the time with jig saw puzzles or reading romance novels or whatever, and such substitutionary pursuits really don’t benefit anybody other than the purveyors of such products. This much I do know: If the time freed up by this fast isn’t used to direct our thoughts to God, it’s an empty gesture and one might as well throw in the towel early.
I chose to give up Facebook this year. I really enjoy communicating with real friends and others who share my interests in one area or another on various discussion groups. I know that I spend too much time on ‘The Book’, and it seemed a good thing to put aside for the next forty or so days. The rules are that I can pick up where I left off every Sunday, and so I will be doing some major catching up on those days. I don’t know exactly why it is set up that way, but there it is. Perhaps I’ll write about that tomorrow.
So today is day one, and instead of writing on Facebook I’m writing to you. You know what? I like it. Earlier this afternoon I read two and a half chapters of a book and tried to spend some time lying back in my easy chair and meditating on God. The book went well – it’s “The Skeletons in God’s Closet” by Joshua Ryan Butler – but the meditation was a complete flop. I tried to visualize Jesus standing by the Sea of Galilee, but my mind drifted to my day at work, my first girl friend, a motorcycle ride across northern Mexico, anything but Jesus. I tried to meditate on Jesus’ attributes; all I got was a blank. Then I decided to embrace the blank; to try and let my mind come to rest. No luck. Soon my mind was like the midway at a carnival, with barkers hawking their games and amusements from every corner of my anything-but-tranquil mind.
So now I’m writing about this in the hope that it will somehow focus my mind on the matter at hand. I will shortly snuff out the candle which I like to burn beside me when I write and go post this on my blog site. I will then open the Bible, the Word of God, and see if jesus will meet me there and bring a little organization out of my jumbled mind. Then I will go to bed and prepare for another day, another fast from Facebook, and another try to find what God would show me during this season, if anything. All of this I will share with you if you are interested.