Lent Fever

… it’s sweeping the nation!

In the past seven days since Ash Wednesday, I’ve been struck by the explosion of lent fever on blogs and Facebook posts the world over, both private and public (like the CC and Huff Post).

lentmadnessimages(I’ve also been hanging onto the edge of my seat and hoping my favorite saints make it through the daily face-off over at Lent Madness and proceed to win the golden halo. But I digress.)

Several things really struck me this week:

1. American Protestants are catching Lent fever like it’s the avian flu. Growing up, there was very little lent talk in our very protestant house; as a kid I remember being awe-struck by my “exotic” Catholic classmates who came to school on Ash Wednesday sporting ashes on their foreheads and who had got to pass up the greasy meatburger in the cafeteria on Fridays. Now it seems that even the lowest of the low-churchies are catching the Lent flu bug. Last week I watched in wonder as many of my Protestant friends posted pictures of themselves on Facebook with ashes on their foreheads, or shared (boasted?) about what they were giving up in the name of self-discipline.

My query: What does this say about us? What need does it reflect? What does our apparent need for donning sackcloth and ashes say about our spiritual disposition at the moment?

And this brings me to …

2. Is it just me, or do we not really know what lent is “for” ? Depending on the commentary or sermon or blog you consult, you might think the point is: fasting like Jesus in the wilderness; fasting, prayer, and alms; meditating on your mortality and/or sinfulness; individual or corporate repentance via weeping, mourning and ashes; experiencing God’s love and nearness (? – do we need Lent for that – ?); or preparation for Easter (like Advent, but with different decorations).

The one thing Protestants do NOT apparently think Lent is for happens to be the thing it was, historically, MOST for: the preparation of new catechists for baptism, which traditionally took place in the night before Easter. (For the fourth-century perspective, check out the moving address by Cyrill, Bishop of Jerusalem, to the new converts on Easter morning, or read the corresponding chapter in the wonderful book The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God.)

baptism

Baptism of Jesus on the ceiling of the baptistry of a church in Ravenna, Italy, ca. 500 AD

Christmas and Easter have meaning for our lives in many ways, and not just one way, too. And yet the Lenten season seems to have more potential interpretations than it has calendar days.

Now, a surplus of Lenten meaning is not per se bad. I am just observing the diversity, not demanding that we call an ecumenical Protestant council and settle on one universal meaning and symbolism for the season, damn it already. Many meanings is fine. Good, even. And fascinating.

3. All this chatter about what we’re “giving up” reveals so, so, so much about us, our cultural situation, and our understanding of piety. More than we realize, perhaps.

(For many reasons, I will not tell you what I am giving up. But if I did, it would reveal many things about me and my role as a material girl in a material world. Umm, not flattering things. *sigh.*)

icafrappLent was traditionally….. a fast. Not a fast from chocolate or Starbucks frappuccinos, but a fast from food, Ramadan style. (Really, the Muslims manage to not eat all day in Ramadan, and for Lent you’re giving up… the whipped cream on your frappuccinos? For shame.)

Ted Smith over at the Christian Century makes a wonderful case for Making Lent Difficult. Mark Sandlin over at Huff Post makes a similar argument.

I wouldn’t want to diss anyone’s Lenten observance. To each his own. Maybe you really, really miss that whipped cream on your frappuccino. But I do think there is a compelling argument for pushing ourselves to adopt practices during lent that move us out of the realm of everyday spirituality and into the realm of “not by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.” Food for thought (pun! intended!). Next year. Maybe.

….. Upon re-reading ….  This post made more sense as an idea in my brain than as official-looking words on a screen (does that happen to you, too?). I hope you don’t think I’m just sitting over here bitching about how people are doing lent “wrong” and stand in need of the rod of biblical correction. However you are observing Lent, you are observing Lent, which is the point, and wonderful. Bravo, Lenters, whoever and however and whyever.

Hopefully this little ramble through my brain did not come across as an exercise in this:

via Cartoon Church: http://www.cartoonchurch.com/blog/

via Cartoon Church: http://www.cartoonchurch.com

Gulp.

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