by Kimberley Thompson, Tastemaker in Residence
The Lenten season has always had this mystical nudge in the back recesses of my brain every since I was in my late 20's. I was in the midst of young adult angst; perhaps a bit later than most, and was trying to figure out this "Religion Thing."
I was born and raised Baptist; faithfully attending church every Sunday and Wednesday. My Mom taught Sunday School, I joined GMG at the appropriate age, leaving that group of girls and mentors for the "Young Adult" group in junior and senior high. I was baptized in front of my church and family. Plays, mission trips, concerts, and summer camp were all rolled together along with communion, rules and Biblical study. I graduated from Bethel University (then College) with what I thought was a precise schematic guide to my religious life going forward.
What is the Robert Burns saying? "The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” Astray...Awry...that would describe my next 4 to 6 years in regards to a faith journey.
I lacked the structural support to maintain the path that I thought I had been on for 25 years. Christianity seemed easy to me...I had been in an environment that felt like one long summer camp with all my Christian friends. My Bible was re-written to "speak to the New Age Christian," my music was "feel good" about Jesus being "my friend," and sin was rarely talked about. My faith journey was a more "go with the flow" path that I trod with all my friends, family and community around me. On my own was a different story.
I found myself questioning my foundation. Oh, not my tenet bedrock beliefs, but my focus on LIVING the Christian life. Being accountable. Living my faith from an introverted awareness with an extroverted outlook. I had a growing unease with my religion that seemed to shift and change to fit me...to make me comfortable...to be "with it and current."
So I started attending different churches...searching for those who had a sense of tradition...churches who embraced their liturgy...and were not constantly apologizing for who or what they were to the outside world. Orthodox, Catholic, Lutheran, Anglican, Wesleyan, Russian Orthodox, Protestant, Pentecostal, Four Square, St Hedwigs, Covenant, and Methodist. I was looking for my "Flying Buttresses."
This is where my vague concepts of Lent started renting a space in my subconscious.
Baptists honor and celebrate an awareness of Lent through Palm Sunday, Good Friday and Easter services. But as a child, I was never encouraged to be aware of what the biblical events were leading up to what most of the world knows as Holy Week. I looked at my friends and their parents with smudges of ash on their foreheads on "Ash Wednesday;" rather like I looked at someone with toilet paper stuck to their foot. Do you tell them? Or do you just walk away?
My friends talked about "giving up things" like indulgent food, or TV watching, or candy because Jesus sacrificed and went without for 40 days in the wilderness prior the start of His ministries. I thought they should have given up chores, broccoli or homework.
I knew about the palm branches, the black fabric draped on the altar (that was switched to white on Easter Sunday), Easter lilies and Christ's gift to us through His death and resurrection.
Attending all the differing churches; I began to pick out common themes to what resonated with my beliefs. Traditions lent me strength, hearing the strong words (not the semi-fluxing words of "New Versions of God's Word for the NEW Age Christian" pap) spoken in response by the congregation, songs written in the past that put the journey succinctly to music and not campfire lyrics on an overhead: all built foundations. Flying buttresses.
Lent, in English, is derived from the shortened Old English word Lenten meaning "Spring Season."
We all look forward to spring: little lambs, green grass, warm sunshine, fragrant flowers, longer days and a feeling of abundance being right around the corner. But historically, Lent also occurs during the grey darkness of the end of winter, the period when (many years passed) there was very little left to eat from the previous harvest and the snow was deep, preventing successful hunting and gathering. The native Americans called the moon cycle in February the "Full Snow Moon" or the "Hunger Moon." The time when houses, if you had one, were probably colder since you may be low on wood or coal to heat them. Sickness and disease started taking the weakened and then the strong. Root cellars were bare. The land was iced over and barren.
I believe Christ walked these roads during His 40 days in the wilderness (the 40 days being where the 40 days of Lent spring from). The Gospels tell us that the Devil tempted him to use his powers to create rich food and luxurious surroundings, to jump from a high point since the angels would save him, and offered Him dominion of the earth. I believe that Matthew, Mark, and Luke did not tell the entire story of Christ's battles with the "Temptor" in the wilderness. I believe Christ saw His children suffering, I believe He walked through plague houses, saw death take indiscriminately, saw every human condition with the Devil prodding Him to use His "God Powers" to save everyone.
Lent focuses on the giving up of our personal pleasures, on eating leaner and mindfully so that we may know something of the hardship's Christ endured during His 40 days in the wilderness, intensifying our relationship to Christ through prayers/study, and acts of charity to our fellow man.
Lent, to me, has become a sum of its parts: be they Orthodox, Baptist, Four Square or Anglican. My Lenten foundation begins not with Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday; but with the internal awareness of what childish, entitled behavior do I need to "work" on (i.e.. give up) and consciously work on giving up that behavior for Lent. I also give up an external; coffee, chocolate, good cheese, shopping or "Candy Crush," etc... I spend one week actually picking up the Bible (instead of my favorite mysteries) and re-reading the Apostles. Another week I spend with focused daily prayers for my family, country, world. I seek out a sanctuary where I may go in and mediate; exercising my communication to God in a more deliberate manner. I try to commit an act of compassion every day; be it small or large, simple or difficult, free or monetary. My acts are NOT to be glorified "look at me...see how good I am," but unrecognized by all but God.
My Lent ends with the last 4 days:
Thursday: Looking at my sins, being aware that once recognized, I need to repent and offer them up to Christ so that I do not keep repeating them.
Friday: Mediating on the incredible sacrifice Christ made for me; both in the garden in full awareness of what He was about to go through and on His actual crucifixion and death. His taking on of my actual sins and cleansing me.
Saturday: Standing up for what I believe: my personal vigil for my faith.
Sunday: Celebrating Christ's resurrection, ascension to Heaven, sitting on the right hand of God, waiting to welcome home His good and faithful servants.
Now that is a foundation with "Flying Buttresses" on which I can build my life, both temporal and eternal.