I Do Not Have Any Reason to Practice Lent
I didn’t grow up in a Lenten tradition. This is not to say that I didn’t grow up with an above average dose of faith-based ideology and rigidity but that, specifically, my brand of Jesus didn’t include much for Lent. I remember a few childhood Ash Wednesdays where I wondered at the dirty foreheads of a few parishioners of our local Catholic church — wandering the aisles of our IGA grocery store or picking up their daughters from my dance class. But the idea of Lent was foreign to me — as much so as sex before marriage or homosexuality or feminism.
Perhaps it was less that my parents eschewed Lent and more that our lifestyle was Lenten year round. We gave up new clothing in favor of garage sales or the annual trip to the “good” consignment shop a few towns over. We gave up packaged foods in favor of bulk grains in big grain bags from wherever my parents bought bulk grains in big grain bags — my own heart skipping a beat the few times a year when Mom would let us select a “TV Dinner” from the Frozen Foods Aisle at that same IGA. “Dad is out of town,” she’d laugh — “So tonight it’s my night off too!” We didn’t observe Lent but we were quiet on Sundays, careful to remember the Lord and His Patriarchal Protection. We didn’t observe Lent but we were homeschooled, giving up wordly socialization for Godly education. We didn’t observe Lent like we didn’t observe evolution or a woman’s right to choose or the Presidency of Bill Clinton.
While my family stoked the narrowly mantled fireplace of conservative-evangelism (without drums — the heartbeat of the devil) we were also brought up adamantly NOT Catholic. My mom had been raised Catholic — years of private school and nun-led studies and uniforms and knuckles bruised by rulers or knees bruised by frozen peas had left their indelible mark on her faith. While my parents were married in the church, my elder sister baptized in the church, they left it behind at about the time I was born — as if observing my creation meant leaving theirs behind. What they’d perceived as narrow and binding, inorganic and un-spirited was left by the wayside as they pursued a now passionate Jesus-following. They were invigorated by the ideas of throwing off their sandals and dancing in the wave of God’s mercy. Unbound by the shackles of organized religion, my parents found themselves in home-churches and home schools. Their world became smaller as they sought to shelter and upend any negative influence with God’s Holy fear. And in that fear, we did well the performance of perfection and piety. And in that God-fearing, we needed no 40 days of starvation or separation or solitude or stamina — we were already living a daily presentation of Word Became Flesh.
(Insert a really long story about how bizarre and borderline traumatic my childhood was and how it took several adolescent years of disenfranchisement (disestablishmentarianism?) before I finally saw my way out of the box Jesus and myself had been placed in and then fast forward and you find me working at a then tiny church in a tiny Western South Dakota town (well, okay, the 2nd largest South Dakota city & the now largest South Dakota church but then things were different and here’s where the story picks back up.))
The first time I was really exposed to the idea of Lent was when I worked at a small church in South Dakota as the “Creative Director.” This was the glorified name for “office manager,” and often my duties were to watch other staff members’ children in the office playroom and to run copies in our ancient Xerox machine that jammed every seventh collation. In the interim, after the loss of one pastor to bigger and greener pastures and waiting for the selection of a new pastoral staff, a young man came to serve the stumbling Body of Christ. It was he who first introduced the tenants of Lent to me — reading pages from the Bible alongside other sacred texts. His ideas of suffering, of solidarity with humanity, of becoming god-like, were compelling and eye opening. In the staggering display of the Stations of the Cross, Holy Week, which swept our protestant church up in equal parts whirlwind of anti-Catholic doctrine and eyes-wide appreciation of the stunning beauty of belief, I was compelled to my knees. It was possible, perhaps, that in the objection of ritual in favor of a free-form faith, my childhood understanding of Spirit and Reverence was stunted or mutated or worse.
Lent became the Holy Pause in my crowded and busy life. I was a teenage bride and mother — quick filling my house with as many as ten children at once — three biological, a small business owner in a small town, a volunteer in many nonprofits and organizations. My life is busy — almost never stopping — always moving faster than my thoughts and without pause and yet, it becomes important when we move quickly to slow long enough to reset the map, get an oil change, grease the gears.
Lent is the Holy Moment of I Am Enough. The overflowing love of God (whatever/whoever that may be) yes — but also ME. Finite Me. I am giving what I have to the world I find myself within and that is the Holiest Act of Self and Selflessness in Tandem.
It doesn’t so much matter what I’ve given up, year after year, as I’ve counted the days and watched suns rise and fall in my longing or loss or the emptiness of a mug to close a hand around, or sugar to sweeten my tongue. I’ve moved from the obvious and external (I’ll give up sweets to serve Jesus but also maybe will lose ten pounds) which is only a little bit deceptively selfish towards what may benefit my fellow men/women/humans/animals as I’ve sought to deconstruct faith even further into actual meaning.
My parents left the Catholic Church but have found a way into her graceful eye and their mother’s acceptance. I have left my parent’s beliefs but still hold their hands at the hospital when they undergo chemo — still utter prayers at their behest, on their behalf. My kids are mostly non-religious and mostly okay in that gray zone of wonder — where we celebrate every mystery for exactly that. And yet — we observe the Holy Pause because ashes on our forehead or not, we come from this earth, dwell on her surface briefly, and descend into her again, ash always at best.
I have no reason to celebrate Lent — and yet, in these days where the world is ever spiraling towards some cataclysmic end or, maybe worse, some slow slip and slide into nothingness, or maybe better, some slow slip and slide into nothingness, we need some grounding to remind ourselves that this earth is not ours to own or contain or take from or never give back to. While I have given my children very little in the way of ritual or religion I have asked them to close Sacred Eyes and Hold Holy Breath and Pause because we are not all that the world is and yet we are All with the World.
May you consider Lent as an opportunity to reward yourself a pause. To gift yourself in the taking away. To reject hostility or selfishness. To focus on the joys of simplicity. May you consider Lent as an opportunity to love a little broader the ones around you — to imagine a way of being a little less of you and a little more of them. May you remind yourself that not having everything is the best way to remember what we do have. And may you never be so caught up in the rote of expectation or production that you forget that your very Existence is a Mother Fucking Miracle
Ash Wednesday, friends. Ashes to ashes. Dust to dust. I’m here in this moment and I’m grateful you are too.