Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season for many Christians. At Christmastime, there was some conversation about the virtues of non-Mormon worship, including the observance of the Christian calendar.

For me, the Christian calendar, in which the year is ordered around Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day is a moving and wonderful way to, as Russell put it, “get off the clock,” to recognize in the rhythm of days and weeks that which is holy.
The idea of Lent is pretty simple–it’s much like Advent in that it is a long season of waiting and preparing for a joyous celebration of birth. But Lent is longer, perhaps because the birth of Easter follows a painful death, and the long waiting of Lent gives us time and space for more complicated emotions than the simpler joy of Christmas. In the (thinly veiled Episcopal) non-denominational church where I first learned about Lent, it was marked not just by simplifying and paring down one’s life, getting rid of extraneous physical and mental junk (of which the most trivial examples are bad habits like overindulgence in chocolate), but also by a renewed dedication to study and learning about Christ–replacing the bad with the foundations of a renewed Christian spirit.

I like this two-fold approach, because it makes it clear that Lent is not just about going without chocolate (or meat or whatever), but about making room for something new to grow. I have tried, with varying success, to somehow make my life simpler for a little while each year, and to commit to some new course of study for the Lenten season. My study has been not terribly original–most years I read the four gospels and III Nephi (and sometimes what was, in our family, referred to as “the sixth gospel”: C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters). My paring down has ranged from lame (one year my big sacrifice was to give up Hot Tamales candy, to which I had developed a fierce addiction) to weird (one time I decided to go without electric lights in my room, and I’ve never known how much of my trouble with Hegel to attribute to plain stupidity and how much to having tried to read him by candlelight!). The best was one year when I didn’t drive my car for 40 days (except to church)–I had so many good thoughts and met/observed so many interesting people walking back and forth from the grocery store, the train station, etc.

So, I have some ideas for habits that I need to shed this year (Evan, no fair commenting on this!), but I’m wondering if y’all have study ideas, or if anyone wants to suggest a group project for Lent–it would be kind of fun to have a Lenten study group of our own…

12 comments for “Lent

  1. February 24, 2004 at 11:14 pm

    This is a great idea Kristine. Elder Eyring’s recent article in the Ensign, The Book of Mormon Will Change Your Life, http://library.lds.org/nxt/gateway.dll?f=templates$fn=default.htm, (please, no ridicule for reading the Ensign) prompted me to have a Book of Mormon experience of my own. Elder Eyring explained that before writing his article, he “set aside a short period of time to read the Book of Mormon”. I wanted to do the same. I set aside a week to do it – 76 pages a day. It may have been ambitious (being sick isn’t conducive to extended periods of scripture study), but I’m loving it so far (I’m only on day 2). It’s the immersion that is making the difference for me.

    Now I just have to think of something to give up. So many choices . . .

  2. Adam Greenwood
    February 25, 2004 at 12:02 am

    What’s the Ensign? Is it good?

    Also, if one wishes to go through a lenten experience, it couldn’t hurt to start off reading the first Lent, Jesus forty day’s in the Wilderness. For truth and beauty little can match it.

  3. lyle
    February 25, 2004 at 12:20 am

    For the record: there is no such thing as overindulgence in chocolate…it simply isn’t possible. do you think God gives up chocolate for 40 days in the year? yeah right!

    For Lent:
    1. I’m going to give up reading the new york times and instead build up a habit of reading the wall street journal.
    2. I’m going to give up my obsessive habit of reading the AP wire and hitting refresh on CNN every 5 min to see what is new in the world. Instead, I am going to grow a habit of pondering how I can affect the world for the better…rather than reacting to and being acted upon by world events.
    3. I’m going to give up my highly stressful and energy sapping disorganized life and grow a more simple, holistic lifestyle that includes organization and making simple, permanent choices, that will reduce my need to make so many choices…I even bought a copy of martha stewart’s living simply magazine :)

  4. Adam Greenwood
    February 25, 2004 at 9:21 am

    you’re moving dangerously close to the subtext here, which is that maybe we should give up wasting our time on this bl. . . No, I can’t bring myself to say it.

  5. lyle
    February 25, 2004 at 10:55 am

    Adam, while there is some humor involved, I’m actually rather serious and take Lent seriously also. Maybe I don’t understand it well enough? i was just protesting for chocolate…when I become a greedy capitalist chocolate shop owner, i don’t want my catholic sales decreasing.

  6. February 25, 2004 at 12:15 pm

    Every year, for a few years now, I’ve used Lent as an occasion to really and truly dedicate myself to changing some aspect of my life–to consecrating my behavior in such a way that I may become a “sacrifice” of sorts to God, who will respond to my offering by purging my person of some evil feeling or sinful habit, or blessing me with some fervently desired outcome. It has never really worked out that way; none of my Lenten devotions have ever resulted in the changes I’ve looked for–the improvements, the opportunities, and so forth. Perhaps that is because, in the end, I probably don’t really believe in a God who will, in fact, be bound to us–as I’ve stated in many different contexts, I’m not sure I believe in merit. Then again, maybe I just have yet to pray hard enough, been believing enough.

    Anyway, I’ve begun the process again this year. I will arise earlier than usual, pray longer, fast more regularly. I’m still just a visiting professor, and there is a job possibility in California I’m very anxious about. I’m in the elder’s quorum presidency, and the quality and quantity of our (and my) home teaching desperately needs to be improved. Most of all, Melissa and the girls are getting near the end of their rope with Alison; she’s got to start sleeping and stop crying all the time. My Lenten devotions will be conducted with these concerns in mind; my efforts to simplify and focus my spiritual life will be part of an effort to use these 40+ days in order to more humbly, more powerfully, more confidently, ask God for aid.

    I do not know if I believe that I may actually receive what I’m going to be asking for. Probably not. I’m not sure I believe I can, no matter how holy I think I may have tried to be, successfully petition God to do something that He would not, in fact, do anyway. He is before me and behind me, spatially and temporally, I think. Yet I will still ask with all the faith I can muster, and attach myself to these preparatory days as a gift and an excuse to get out from, to set boundaries around and step outside of, my usual epistemological tangles, and simply be penitent and petitionary. Which of course, as I realize, maybe the whole point of Lent after all, and not anything that may come from it.

  7. Adam Greenwood
    February 25, 2004 at 2:00 pm

    maybe you could sell Lenten chocolates? Take all the sugar out, make them bitter as hell.

  8. February 25, 2004 at 3:47 pm

    I just posted about this topic on my blog today.

    I grew up with Lent and went to the weekly Wednesday night services. As an adult, I have an overall negative impression of it. Living in a predominantly Catholic city, the popular thing to give up is meat on Fridays. There’s fish fries at the churches which are big beer fests, basically. My co-workers proudly announce what they are giving up and others ooh and aah over their amazing stamina to sacrifice things like tv, soda, or potato chips for 40 days (yes, these are all things I’ve heard). A couple of years ago, someone actually announced their sacrifice (tv) in our staff meeting.

    If Lent was promoted as a private matter and time of inward reflection, I’d feel a lot better about it.

  9. Kristine
    February 25, 2004 at 6:50 pm

    Russell, I suspect your Lenten efforts (like everyone’s) change you in ways you didn’t expect and might not even notice. In any case, I’ll add my fervent wishes for Alison’s colic to end to yours–you and Melissa deserve the kind of rebirth that comes from a night’s sleep (or even two or three!).

  10. February 25, 2004 at 7:08 pm

    It is very interesting to be at a Divinity School on Lent because so many people have the tell-tale ashes on their forehead. I remember several years ago during my first Div School Lent experience I tried to clean a couple of faces off in my ignorant good will before some kind soul patiently explained my error.

  11. lyle
    February 25, 2004 at 10:23 pm

    lol!!! thanks for sharing melissa…maybe that story is in the church canards of a catholic harvard divinity blog…lol. :)

    as an aside/mention of other faith traditions:
    I have observed ramadan three times in the 7 years since i have been to Jerusalem. Each time it has been a wonderful fasting experience. just a thought to those that want to continue their lent experience with a pre-lent experience in another 6 months or so…

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