This week is the beginning of Lent in the Western Churches. As a Christian and as a church, I believe there are many things, such as the Christian seasonal rhythms, that we need to rediscover or re-energize with true meaning. Sometimes this means some un-learning of old thinking. For example:
Lent is NOT about ‘giving up’ things, whether substantial (like Facebook) or small (like Twitter?) Lent involves fasting but it’s not just about food and externals.
Lent is NOT about self-improvement by self-flagellation. It is practicing the spiritual disciplines in earnest – like spring training is to the whole season.
Lent is NOT a Roman Catholic idea – and therefore to be avoided by non-Roman Catholics. It is an early church practice observed by the Eastern Orthodox, many Western churches of all stripes, including the Evangelical Covenant Church of which I am a part.
Lent is NOT about legalistic, empty-headed rules. Though these have appeared at times in history, it is not inevitable that a sacred season become desecrated.
Enough of the power of negative thinking! What is the antidote to shallow stereotypes of Lent?Alexander Schmemann puts it beautifully in his book, Great Lent, Journey to Pascha. (pp. 31-33)
“This ‘something else’ can best be described as an ‘atmosphere,’ a ‘climate’ into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit, which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to ‘soften’ our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden thirst and hunger for communion with God.”
He spoke of Lent as a ‘bright sadness.’
“…the sadness of my exile, of the waste I have made of my life; the brightness of God’s presence and forgiveness, the joy of the recovered desire for God, the peace of the recovered home.”
I’m reminded of Scott Cairns poem on repentance (Greek: Metanoia or ‘change of heart’).
The heart’s metanoia
on the other hand, turns
without regret, turns not
so much away, as toward,
as if the slow pilgrim
has been surprised to find
that sin is not so bad
as it is a waste of time!
(from Adventures in New Testament Greek: Metanoia, in Compass of Affection, Poems New and Selected)