Today on Facebook, my “friends” have begun to report those things they’re giving up for Lent. One is giving up beef, another watching the Big Bang theory, another Facebook (gasp), another caffeine. I think some have given up reading my blog.
Now, I’m no expert on Lent. I certainly did not grow up in a tradition that practiced Lent. When I moved to St. Paul in 2007, it was the first place I had lived where I saw ashes on foreheads in grocery stores and coffee shops on Ash Wednesday. I like the idea of thinking about time in relation to the movements of God into the world: Advent, Easter, Pentecost, etc. It keeps me from thinking of time as just one damned thing after another. So, I want to know more about the Lenten season. And I definitely like the idea of a season of living reflectively under the sign of the cross in anticipation of resurrection.
So, to be one of the Lent-ers, I find myself thinking about what I can give up. Already gave up cable. I’m pretty sure I need caffeine and sugar and that God wants me to enjoy life–so, those are out. I could give up reality TV shows, but I don’t watch any. Video games? Don’t play them. I could give up being slender. I’ve got a head start on that one right now and seem to be better at it the older I get. Writing sarcastic blogs? Maybe.
Truth is, I’m in a season of life when I’m adding things back. I’m embracing things again and I have some good life momentum toward God going that way. Is Lent just about giving things up? I’ve struggled with this Lenten season for many reasons, some that I think are important and actually a part of my understanding of the significance of the death of Jesus.
I have come over time to think of the death of Jesus, less as a punishment, and more as the fullest expression of a particular way of life. I think this is what bugs me a little bit about how people approach Lent. It seems like its about punishment, negation, deprivation for some people. But the cross to me is the embrace of a particular way of life–a life that begins with the realization that I am mortal, created, contingent, dependent on the mercies of God.
The effort to secure my own life leads to a deathly existence. It leads to clutter and excess and self-absorption and constant self-diligence. As a result, it leaves little room for others, for life, or for God. The life of Jesus expressed on the cross is a full expression of trust and hope and love. It is the surest way to make room for life, for gift, for others, for God. Trust is open and leaves room. And this is how I want to think about Lent.
So, it helps me to think about Lent less as giving things up, and more about making room. The results may be the same in terms of giving things up, but they may not be. By making the sign of the cross on my forehead, I am actually embracing a particular way of life, seeing my life less as a negation, and more as a full life-expression through the way of the cross.
Now you should take your Lent advice from someone who knows more about it than me. But this season, I will be making room.
Mark, I love this thought. I hope you won’t give up blog-writing or irony for sure. Thank you for making room for us.
You have always been and continue to be a great encourager. Yes, no, maybe.
I will move through my second Ash Wednesday service tonight. I’m giving up sports and pop radio – which I typically listen to in the office or car about 6 hours a day – for spiritual music, readings and sermons. I’m finding all sorts of interesting podcasts on Itunes, and have decided Audio Adrenaline and Switchfoot are okay – U2 may be a stretch. If you have any sermons on mp3 – send them my way – I will listen.
Kent, I like that as a way of making room. I think there are sermons of mine on the Lake Orion Church of Christ website. And U2 has to be ok!
I grew up giving things up for Lent. After becoming a member at a C of C, where the Easter season was very much downplayed, I stopped participating in my tiny versions of sacrifice. About eight years ago, I started observing Lent again, sometimes giving something up, sometimes adding in, always using the moments of reminder as a trigger for reflection. One year, I gave up coffee and chocolate and I don’t think God or anyone else appreciated the change in my demeanor. Another year, I stopped listening to the radio while driving to work; I had a morning car-conversation with God instead. This year, I decided to start every day on my knees. Thanks for the inspiration!
The thing I like best about your helpful comment is that you realize that giving up something is no guarantee of making more room for God, or others I would add. I wonder if the difference might be in thinking of Lent less as making a sacrifice and more as making room. Again, I think how a person thinks about the death of Jesus has something to do with how one might think about Lent. If you think of Jesus’ death as the ultimate sacrifice, then Lent might be thought of as your making a sacrifice. But, if the death of Jesus is the expression of a life of trust in God, then Lent might be thought of as an attempt to build in greater patterns of trust.
Thanks for commenting.
I love the idea of ‘making room instead’. Thanks for great food for thought!
Mark, I love your blog so hope you are not planning on giving it up. I really didn’t realize you had one til now…so I need to pay better attention. At any rate what about Lent? Coming into the church and East County always took Lent into account over the years but I couldn’t really get into it. Blame it on my job at UPS. I believe your outlook is best – making room. I like that. Out with some of the old stuff and make more room for the Lord. Yes, making room by ridding myself of old ways of thinking or anything that crowds out Jesus and make myself more accessable and usable for our Lord.
Mike, happy to know you’re reading. I miss watching you practice your faith.
If you want to know more about Lent from the Eastern Orthodox Christian perspective, which in my experience is an extremely transforming experience… then read the book “Great Lent” by Alexander Schmemann.
Here’s a link with some exerpts from the book if you’re interested: http://www.monachos.net/content/lent/materials/60-lenten-reflections/448-schmemann-introduction-great-lent
Lent isn’t just about ‘giving things up’ at all. It’s about prayer, fasting, almsgiving, repentance, and preparing ourselves for the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It’s so much more meaningful and powerful than what most make it out to be these days. We don’t have a “Mardi Gras” in the Orthodox Church before Lent. We have what’s called “Forgiveness Sunday” where each person in the parish spends time asking for forgiveness from everyone else. It’s an unbelievably moving experience that I have not seen anywhere else in our day and age. I have been an Orthodox Christian for 4 years now, and I look forward to growing closer to Christ through the season of Lent every year (along with the other fasting/preparative season of Advent before Christmas).
Blessings to you, Dr. Love! I always enjoyed your classes when I was at Cascade. I hope you are doing well!
Rondi, thanks for sharing this. I love seeing how important the Orthodox tradition has become to you. I would think that my view of the death of Jesus here would line up well with an Eastern perspective.
I would be interested in hearing your perspective… have you written about it on your blog?
Not much. I have written articles on Trinity and mission that builds on the work of the Cappadocians. I use some of Zizioulas’ stuff in courses I teach. I like the social view of God, the emphasis on the persons, etc. I basically like the notion of theosis. But there are things I don’t appreciate quite as much. I certainly would not consider myself well informed, but I like serious, historical traditions. The Orthodox tradition certainly qualifies.
I always knew you were a kindred spirit, especially after you quoted Jaroslav Pelikan in your restoration history class 🙂
Over the years, I’ve added in meaningful observations of Passover, Tennebrae, and Easter. I’ve completely avoided/overlooked Lent. I’m joining the view of using the season as a time to Make Room, and I have a few “spaces” I plan to clear out toward that end. Thanks for the positive post, Mark.
Susan, I look forward to seeing what happens.
Just saw an article in Christianity Today that makes the case for observing the Sabbath, that is, getting some rest, is probably the most important thing we can do for Lent. That’s an old/new way of looking at things. I know it’s a huge challenge for me to rest.
My Lenten commitment is about adding, making room as you’ve said, instead of giving up or taking away. First day was such a blessing.
I want to hear about it.
I like the adding to mentality. Lent should be an epic journey that leads us to a designed ending that when achieved we realized was not the concept we envisioned. I use to skip my denomination for the episcopal church during lenten season. Attending their worship and lenten classes (my Volf introduction came through the Archbishop making Free of Charge the 2006 OFFICIAL lent book) somehow bonafide my experience. As always there was a different plan, which is why I love the season. I’m reading Anne Lomott’s new book. There is a quote from her Episcopal priest friend who say’s Advent is just spiritual foreplay to Christmas and I guess the same could be said about Lent to some degree but to much happens for me to trifle with it.
Craig, thanks for the comments. Epic journey. Designed ending. Not what we envisioned. Things to think about.
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