Our Lenten Observance
"Lent should never be morose -- an annual ordeal during which we begrudgingly forgo a handful of pleasures. Instead, we ought to approach Lent as an opportunity, not a requirement. After all, it is meant to be the church's springtime, a time when, out of the darkness of sin's winter, a repentant, empowered people emerges. No wonder one liturgy refers to it as 'this joyful season'."
-- from the Introduction to Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter
Two months ago I dreaded the arrival of Lent. I simply felt no desire to give up anything. I feel tired. I'm pathetic at fasting. And I like to keep my options open. But that's the one thing Lent, and a Lenten way of life, will not brook: to live as I please when I please.
I'm better today. I spent a good deal of the morning washing dishes and tidying up the kitchen after last night's dinner party. We'd invited our friends the Van Dykes to celebrate Shrove Tuesday with us. We ate spicy sausages, homemade hashbrowns (yum yum), scrambled eggs, fresh strawberries and gluten-free pancakes that totally rocked (that is, they tasted great, not like rocks, which unfortunately often describes the taste of gluten-free substitutes). We washed it down with fresh-squeezed orange juice, and over a game of Farkle we nibbled at a crisply cold mango sorbet.
As I washed the dishes this morning I prayed. I prayed for a right heart. Outside the window above the sink I watched our blankets on the clothing line swaying back and forth under a gusty wind. They looked like multi-colored dancers come to announce the new season. I want to embrace this year's Lent, despite my begrudging heart. If there is something God wants to bring to light or change significantly, I want to be obedient.
Which of course is not always easy.
Phaedra and I will be observing our Lenten abstinences in common. I might do the Master Cleanse on my own--get my gut cleaned out. She'll work through exercises in The Artist Way by herself. But mostly we fare much better when we share our "sufferings" together. Here are the disciplines we will be embracing with God's help.
No sweets, spirits or dark drinks. We are foregoing all desserts and anything that obviously looks like a sweet thing. Brown suger in my granola doesn't count. Nesquik Chocolate Milk does. There'll be no wine after dinner or margaritas with our Mexican food. And we're letting go of our common love of black tea. It's all Rooibos from here to Easter.
Computers off at 7:00 pm. I told Phaedra that my computer is robbing me of my evenings and it is all of my own doing. I have no need really to be doodling through the internet after dinner. I've got all day long. Why suck my evenings dry?
"And when at last we drag our wearied bodies home, we give ourselves just one more glance at the benevolent dictator we call the internet to rummage around for things we think we need, we’re not sure why, when we should be under our covers, eyes closed, mouth shut, prayed up."
Why not instead turn the computer off and spend our evenings sitting in our lovely living room reading or listening to music. Phaedra can knit. I can meander without guilt through art books that I constantly buy but never make time to read.
I can't tell you how happy, happy, happy I am at this new nightlife that awaits us for the next "forty" days.
Memorizing Scripture. I used to memorize truckloads of Scripture. I was an Awana kids after all, at least for all of fifth grade. The guy who discipled me in high school, Matt Fries, made me memorize entire books of the Bible. In Guatemala as a kid I memorized Bible verses for cookies and lemonade. David Adam in The Rhythm of Life says that the result of committing Scripture to memory is that it has a chance to "vibrate" in our minds throughout the course of the day.
I got lazy in my twenties and now I'm on the backside of my thirties with nary a Scripture vibrating in my head. I know a good deal of it. I got a degree in it for crying out loud. But there's no substitute for having Scripture at the tip of your tongue. I want to masticate the Word.
Writing Thank You Cards and Other Notes. We stink at writing thank you cards. So we're taking this one on as an act of engagement. We're going to give up time and energy to tell people how much we do care for them. It does folks no good if our sentiments stay in our head.
Special Monetary Gifts. We're not rolling in the dough by any stretch of the imagination. But there's nothing like giving away money till it hurts to see if ole Mammon is hanging out anywhere in the house.
Right now I'm putting together a Lenten devotional for Christ Church. I'm late. I should have had it prepared for tonight. I told Cliff I was so sorry. I'll have it ready by Sunday. But I do think it's a wonderful thing for an entire congregation to be praying the same prayers all through Lent.
I just found out that Christine and Cliff (that's my sister and brother-in-law) are giving up electricity for Lent. More precisely, they're giving it up after 6pm. Just when I thought Phaedra and I were awesome for giving up our computers. They're giving up electricity!
Friday night Phaedra and I will travel to San Antonio to hear Conspirare's performance of Rachmaninoff's Vespers. As the director notes on Conspirare's website.
"Rachmaninoff's Vespers is universally regarded as the crowning achievement of the "Golden Age" of Russian Orthodox sacred music, as well one of the greatest works of choral music ever written. It was, in fact, one of the composer's two favorite compositions (along with The Bells). [Conspirare's] chamber choir will expand to 38 singers, with added weight in the bass section in the tradition of the Russian basso profundo."
A friend gave us the tickets as a gift. It is a gift that we received very gratefully, as it will help our souls enter more fully into Lent with the aid of beautiful music.
"The boy was very proud that he had been born in a wreck. He had always felt that it set his existence apart from the ordinary one and he had understood from it that the plans of God for him were special, even though nothing of consequence had happened to him so far. Often when he walked in the woods and came upon some bush a little removed from the rest, his breath would catch in his throat and he would stop and wait for the bush to burst into flame. It had not done it yet."
From The Violent Bear It Away, Flannery O'Connor
(IMAGE: Tyrus Clutter, "Plan," Color Viscosity Intaglio (2007)