Reframing Lent

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My earliest memories of Lent are from around eighth grade. The exact year is a bit vague, but I remember quite clearly the first time I was invited to enter a season of self-sacrifice by giving up something which I would think of every day; something that each time I wanted it, I would deny myself that desire and instead spend time in prayer and reflection however brief. I remember rather clearly what I chose for this season of fasting: Dr Pepper. Now, for those who have known me for a while, the idea that I would, as a teenager, give up the sweet twenty-three-flavored nectar which I drank significant quantities of each day is nearly unfathomable. Though I have rarely had any since about November of last year, two decades ago, it was my beverage of choice—even at breakfast. I don’t recall growing especially closer to God or if I ever slipped up and enjoyed some carbonated refreshment during those 40 days. I remember the annoyance of being forced to participate in a tradition by little more than religious peer pressure.

I fasted from something every Lent year after year until just a few years ago. When I reflect upon why I did it and if I found it to be a useful spiritual practice in preparation for Easter, the answers were “because that’s what you do” and “not really.” As I have deconstructed the preconceived notions handed down to me over the years, I have realized how much of what I was taught to believe reduced the fullness of the life Jesus lived. Historically, Lent was a time which, for new Christians, served as a season of preparation which culminated in an Easter baptism. It was not unlike what we call confirmation in the Church. How this beautiful practice was reduced to giving something up and telling everyone about it is for Church historians to discover. For me, I have focused on doing a different kind of inward work each year. This year, the Lenten practice which resonates with me is not fasting from your favorite beverage but instead looking inward at the things which burden us—those thing we carry with us which make our load heavier.

On Ash Wednesday, we receive the image of a cross on our foreheads made out of the ashes of the branches waved the previous year on Palm Sunday. As the soot is imposed on our brows, we hear the words, “…from dust you were made and to dust you will return.” So often, that symbol is described as a reference to our mortality, a reminder that someday we will die and life is precious. This year, however, I shared a different lens to view this symbolic practice. Reminding ourselves that we were created from dirt and someday we will be buried in it is not just a symbol of the fragility of life but of the beauty that we are creations of the Living God. This celebration, while somber, is a time for remembering we are human. As humans, we are not God. And that is good news. We can stop trying to be God. We can stop expecting perfection from ourselves. We can stop taking on the weight of the world upon our shoulders. We are not God, nor do we have the responsibilities of being God. We are humans, created from dirt, yet we have the very breath of God breathed into us to give us life. This season we call Lent is, then, the perfect opportunity to create more room for that life.

Over these 40 days, I am doing the work of unpacking the things I carry with me which are no longer useful to me; it’s possible they never were. In just the first few days into this season, I have already found great freedom. I have been able to begin the work of discovering who I am called to be today and tomorrow, not who I once was. Over the next three weeks, we are going to do that work of unpacking our lives together. There are things we each can give up in a freeing way, and there are things we can let go of together. It’s kind of like Marie Kondo coming into our innermost places and reminding us that we are allowed to examine something and say, “This no longer sparks joy for me, or maybe it never did.” For the next three weeks, We will be releasing a new post on Mondays as we walk toward Good Friday and Easter. Each week, I’ll invite you to join me in a different theme of unpacking. I am actually excited about Lent this year, maybe for the first time ever. Let us create within ourselves space for the new life of Easter. I hope you will join me on that journey, for this is your Sacred Place.

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