Saturday, March 10, 2012

Lent

Why Lent?  I’ve been ask this question a lot this year.  How does a born and bred Pentecostal decide to observe Lent?  Maybe because I am in contact with more and more people from my past and present who have never considered Lent.  This is not my first year to consider Lenten practices.

Several years ago now – probably at least five – I decided to in a small way practice the ancient Christian practice of observing Lent.  I didn’t go for ashes that year nor did fast.  I wasn’t quite ready for that “Catholic” of an experience.  Nor did I understand enough to consider it.


That year I had picked up a book at Goodwill.  It was a book by Phyllis Tickle: Eastertide Prayers for Lent through Easter with the Divine Hours.  Five times a day (well, most days) I'd open the book, recite the reading, pray the prayers, etc. Often it was rote; I would read with mind elsewhere.  However, just as often, the Holy Spirit would move in and the time with the book expanded long past the reading on the page.  Often while sitting on an early spring morning alone on my deck, the written prayers turned into heartfelt prayers of praise, worship, petition, repentance, and longing.  As a Pentecostal, I would say these times were times of "praying through" an issue - usually a heart issue.  I grew spiritual in ways that I hadn't expected. I have returned to the ancient practice of Divine Hours and find the discipline always a spur to my spiritual growth.


My first experience with Ash Wednesday and the imposition of ashes came surprisingly at a Nazarene church.  Small, meeting in a shopping plaza, for a short time I joined in regular worship with this Nazarene church.  Much to my surprise, on a Wednesday night in that place I had my first experience with the imposition of ashes.  Part of me thought perhaps I'd be struck with lightening for becoming "Catholic."  The other part of me was struck with the symbolism and profound meaning of the ritual.

In 2010, during our sojourn to South Dakota, I was home for an interview for the doctoral program at Trevecca.  I had this urgency in my spirit to go find a church and receive ashes again.  It was odd.  I couldn't shake it.  I thought how ridiculous and yet... it compelled me.  I recommend you read these two of my previous blogs to understand:  I am Dust and Suddenly.  As you read, you'll understand that urgency I felt for the ashes was God's way of preparing me for the death of my mother.  Her death vigil started the day after I received ashes reminding me that I am dust and to dust I will return.

My "record" with Lent is spotty.  Last year I received the imposition of ashes at the Catholic church with my daughter. It was a rather routine experience and not particularly profound.  We shared fish sandwiches after.  That was about it for Lent last year except for failed attempts to not eat meat on Friday.

This year I have once again felt the need to attend to my spiritual disciples.  While I know I don't need to follow Lent.  It's not in the Bible; it's not a command.  However, I do believe that ancient Christians developed these practices for spiritual benefit.  I can testify that they have benefited me.  If you would like a short version of the history of Lent in ancient Christianity, go here.

This year I have a church home.  As I pulled up to the church on Ash Wednesday my sense were alive as I smelled the palms burning in preparation for ashes.  I ate a bread and water supper with my brothers and sisters.  I received ashes on my forehead once again.  I purposed to fast meat on Fridays this year.  I cheated already.  I had a turkey sandwich last Friday and feel no particular guilt about it. However, the intention of trying to fast is a good one and one I will continue to strive to practice this year during the Lenten season.  


Most importantly, I am drawing closer to God through this season.  I have humbled myself and asked for prayer.  I have seen answers to those prayers already.  I am aware of the Holy Spirit working in my heart.  Changes are coming. I have purposed to not be negative in my speech and outlook and to be grateful and express gratitude.  I am dust.  I am nothing except for God.  Lent reminds me of that.  Lent helps me focus on my heart and soul to self-discipline and repentance.


I've learned that God can speak to me in infinite ways.  I only have to listen.  Just yesterday I watched a video sent to me by an intercessor.  It's a video of a Jewish Rabbi teaching on Esther.  It pierced my heart and brought both tears of conviction and tears of hope.  You can see it here.


I would never discount or discredit my Pentecostal heritage.  I love it.  I cherish it.  I embrace it.  I practice it. Sometimes I long for it as one does your favorite meal from childhood.  My heritage taught me to pray through, to see God, to fast, and to pray.  For me, that's what Lent is all about.

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