Growing up Adventist, Lent was a foreign concept to me. I don’t know if I ever actually heard the word until high school, which was Mennonite. Then I lived in a dorm at a Lutheran college, sang in an Anglican choir, played piano at a United church and learned a lot about Lent.
Adventists don’t observe Lent. Adventists don’t follow the traditional church calendar. One Easter weekend we had a Thanksgiving-themed sermon.
The lack of liturgical rituals in Adventism is largely because Adventists view such rituals “as unnecessary as it puts undue emphasis on ritualized personal sacrifice, which devalues the sacrificial work of Christ.” Lent is not a biblical principle.
That makes sense. Intertwined with that is also a concern that a ritual becomes routine and loses its significance once it becomes rote.
I’ve come to realize that I like rituals. I like liturgy. And I like following the traditional church calendar. I like these things because they’re tangible expressions and they add some structure, discipline and focus to my spiritual life. Furthermore, I like the idea of being connected to other believers who are observing the same days as I am, albeit in different ways. For me, rituals, liturgies and church calendars are simply other means to an end, not ends in themselves; they have no inherent value to me in and of themselves, which is why I feel comfortable observing them.
I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what I would like to accomplish during Lent, which is a problem because Lent is not about accomplishing anything. Lent is about reflecting on Jesus’ journey to the cross.
The American Evangelical Lutheran Church calls Lent “a season of simplicity.” My original Lenten goals were also anything but simple. It was a list of things I would and wouldn’t do, which completely misses the point.
Or does it?
I’m of two minds about this, because the Lenten discipline of sacrifice is important, because every time I think about doing that thing I said I wouldn’t do, I remember why I’m not doing it. It’s really a way of focusing my attention on what matters. As for the things I would do, again, it’s about focusing on those things that are important.
However, I’ve replaced my initial Lenten plan with something a lot simpler: rest.
I’m going to rest my mind by practicing intentional silence and giving up a lot of my online time.
I’m going to rest my body by nourishing it properly and giving it adequate exercise and rest.
And I’m going to rest my soul by spending time in prayer and meditation, and by practicing self-compassion.
Kelley Nikondeha expresses the Lenten thoughts I didn’t know I had perfectly:
It’s a season for holding ambiguity and contradictions; less to be more, emptiness to contemplate fullness, even death to welcome life.
I’ve always found it to be a time of owning my fragile and fractured ways. Laying them out, saying, ‘here they are, my struggles in this life, in this body, in the place.’ Something about moving out of the shadows of denial begins a gradual healing. No argument, no defense or trying to justify why I limp this way or that. Just an honest statement in God’s company about my own feeble attempts at following His way.
Coming into Lent with a raw awareness of where I stand, I walk the days strangely at peace. I’ve never felt it morose. There’s goodness in being known in your weakness and accepted nonetheless. And that’s much of what I sense in the lenten weeks – acceptance.I somehow embody the truth that in my humanness I am both broken and beloved.God’s so near even as I confess my cracks and chips. I journey through lent overwhelmed by this wide and welcoming Love that does not ride on my righteousness at all. In my human frame, I’m known and embraced.
But the fasting does work on me, kneading me so I can rise. The days spent without unlock new doors and disarm intimate vices, empowering me to celebrate Easter as one risen from dire circumstances and hurtful habits. I participate in the resurrection truth, a foretaste of what is to come.
My soul craves Lent. I hunger for the quiet and the closeness, the broken and belovedness of it all.
Here are a few books I’m going to peruse during this time:
Lenten Prayer (Teresa of Avila)
Let nothing disturb you,
Let nothing frighten you,
All things are passing away:
God never changes.
Patience obtains all things.
Whoever has God lacks nothing;
God alone suffices.
So tonight I will go to the Lutheran church a couple of blocks away and put ashes on my forehead. Then my Lenten season will begin.