A semi-regular attempt (in other words, as I have time) to explore the interaction between God and the adolescent world, especially the connection between theory and praxis (otherwise known as practical theology). Primary emphasis will be given to the role of the church (and especially the emerging church) in this process.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent.

The Christian calendar observes the forty days (excluding Sundays) before Easter as the Season of Lent. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter). It is a designated period of prayer and fasting. This spiritual discipline is practiced in imitation of Jesus who spent forty days in the wilderness praying and fasting in order to prepare for his ministry. (BTW, loved this contemporary painting of Jesus' temptations.)

Early members of the Catholic Church fasted from eating meat during certain days in the Lenten season. The Western Church has expanded that practice to encourage people to fast from necessities and give up various pleasures in order to focus on repentance. The fasting also provides a way for the believer to identify with Jesus in his suffering.

Our old friend Wikipedia describes the practices of Lent thusly: "The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour)".

There are three obvious questions:
How well do I do justice toward God? Do I spend the time with Him that He desires? Do I see Him as a vital part of my life, or is it easier just to call on Him when I have a need? I've long recognized my tendency toward self-sufficiency. Therefore, this Lenten season, I commit to the discipline of fasting from those things which take me away from God--excessive amounts of time on my computer or watching TV in the hope that the time saved will be spent focusing on God.

How well do I do justice toward myself? For instance, how well am I taking care of my body? As my recent weight gain will attest, not very. I've always had a problem with my weight, finally losing over 130 pounds over two years. But like with any discipline, as soon as I stopped being diligent about what I ate and exercising regularly, the weight started coming back. This Lenten season, I commit to refraining from junk food and to exercising regularly.

How well do I do justice toward my neighbor? It's so easy to get focused on the "tasks" that lay before me (the next writing project, academic research, speaking engagements, etc.) and forget about the relationships which I need to engage in. Perhaps my inability to do justice toward my neighbor has as much to do with the fact that I don't know my neighbor well enough to know his or her needs. So this Lenten season I commit to spending time in relationship, learning about others so I can respond accordingly.

Tonight I will lead our teens in a traditional Ash Wednesday service, complete with the Imposition of Ashes. As I apply the mix of oil and ashes to each person's forehead, making the sign of the cross, I will remind them that it is a symbol of penitence, a sign of our humanity and morality. For as the words of Imposition say,

Remember you are dust and to dust you shall return
Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.
The former Archbishop of Canterbury, Stephen Cotrell, wrote a fantastic little book titled I Thirst a few years ago on the seaon of Lent. In it, he writes,
"Lent is supposed to be a time when we review our spiritual life, think again about what it means to be a follower of Christ, reset the compass of our discipleship and prepare ourselves to celebrate the Easter festival. But often we just give up biscuits."
May all of us, this Lenten season, discover anew the wonder of being followers of Christ, those who turn away from sin, and are faithful. Like Jesus, may we accept the invitation to enter our own wilderness and to renew our dependence upon God.


Blogger Scott Williams said...

I haven't checked in for a while and it looks like I've missed a few posts. Anyway, I'm glad you posted about Lent and Ash Wednesday as Dawn and I are taking this time of Lent "seriously" this year. We've never really put too much thought or effort into this season in the past and I appreciate your post. Blessings.

9:49 PM


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