I’ve been quiet on my blog this week. Maybe I over talked myself with The Single Woman’s 30-Day Blogging Challenge, but even though I haven’t posted anything, I’ve been reading. And I’ve been reading a lot about Lent.
Lent started this week. I’ve been wanting to write about it, but…not. I’m torn. Here’s why. I’m part of a spiritual community that doesn’t celebrate Lent, but I came from a background that did. I was still too young to have participated in the fasting aspect of Lent when I was a Catholic, but I participated in Ash Wednesdays and going to mass on Easter Sunday. I remember – and this is why I’m torn – the hypocrisy. Mass on Easter Sunday and the Sundays leading up to were always packed. Standing room only. But other Sundays were not. Nobody explained the ashes to us, not even in religion class (I was a Catholic school girl, plaid skirts and everything). And the adults in my life who never gave a care about God suddenly became pious…for 40 days. My mean teachers were suddenly nicer…for 40 days. The bullies in school stopped bullying…for 40 days. It’s very confusing for a little girl.
And I remembered all of this because I was that good little girl that bottled things up. Have you met her? She listens and obeys. She gets good grades. She’s shy and nice. On the outside. Inside, she’s full of resentment and anger. It’s not fair that she’s been goody-goody all the time and gets nothing for it, but her peers are good for a few days and they get praised.
Of course, I didn’t understand what it means to have a relationship with Jesus because I had none. Oh I did the religious stuff, but that’s all it was. Doing. It meant nothing and around me, Lent seemed to mean nothing. People got ashes on their foreheads. They moaned about the things they’re giving up for Lent. They went to the religious festivities (I’ll post about The Penitencia later, it’s…something). But there was nothing deeper. At least, nobody showed me anything deeper.
Now I’m older and I read more. And I know there are genuine experiences people have during Lent. The fasting they do to push deeper in their relationship with God. The traditions they follow that are genuine faith experiences. I read those posts and articles and I cry a little because their love for God is so evident as they work out their salvation. I’m touched. I’m inspired.
Then I also read articles about the Ash and Dash, the concept of a drive-through Ash Wednesday. You don’t even have to step out of your car. I read about Ashtags, Ash Wednesday selfies showcasing the proof that you went to church. I saw Twitter’s #lent filled with serious, joking, and faith-insensitive tweets on what people are giving up. And I’m…I’m…
I’m mad! Nobody – not anyone from mass, not from religion class, and no Catholic adult relatives – nobody told me what Lent is really about. What Jesus really went through and why. Nobody made Lent meaningful, and now…has this really changed?
Lent is also about sacrifice, isn’t it? Are we teaching this to the people through programs like the Ash and Dash? I get the creativity of it. I get the desire to reach the ever-increasing busy people. But we’re catering to the people’s desire for instant gratification.
We’re not giving them the chance to sacrifice. We’re not even giving them the chance to get out of their cars, let alone sacrifice a couple hours for the service. A bird will never learn to fly if not given the chance, or a child to walk if not given the chance.
What about what the Bible says about fasting?
“When you practice some appetite-denying discipline to better concentrate on God, don’t make a production out of it. It might turn you into a small-time celebrity but it won’t make you a saint. If you ‘go into training’ inwardly, act normal outwardly. Shampoo and comb your hair, brush your teeth, wash your face. God doesn’t require attention-getting devices. He won’t overlook what you are doing; he’ll reward you well.” Matthew 6:16-18 (The Message)
And I’m sad. Sad because we’re so lost in this world that the spiritual significance of religious traditions are lost to us. What are ashtags but proof of what we’re doing and chances to become small-time celebrities? We don’t need to prove to our moms, friends, other church members, and social media followers that we went to church, we got the ash, we’re fasting or giving something up for Lent.
More than not needing to give proof, these things we do during Lent should be something we store in our hearts. Share them if it can help someone else. If, by reading your account of Lent, someone like me would be touched and inspired and led to my own deeper spiritual journey.
What have we missed by doing Lent? By doing religion instead of investing in a relationship with Jesus? I don’t celebrate Lent not because of my spiritual community or my past experience with it. I don’t celebrate Lent because I’m working out my salvation in a different way that’s between God and me (and the people I’m accountable to).
Nobody really knows what’s in the hearts of the people who did Ash Wednesday drive-through or ashtags. I’m not saying they’re wrong. I’m raising questions and issues about the practices that have been bothering me. The hearts of the people are between the people and God.
But may I encourage all of us to dive deeper in our relationship with God? To invest in that relationship. To reclaim the spiritual significance of the religious traditions we participate in.
Will you share your Lent story?