I was just reading the article I wrote last year when I gave up Facebook for Lent. So much has changed. I remember that last year I saw fasting during Lent as some Catholic thing that might be a good idea to do. Also, my reason for giving up Facebook was to help me in the areas of procrastination and discipline.
On the discipline front, it’s funny to have watched how things have played out since then; even more so in light of this year’s Lent. As I finished up that second semester of seminary, my procrastination and discipline issues only worsened.As I dropped out and spent the summer woefully unemployed and poor, my nights got later, I became completely unproductive on nearly every front, and my soul seemed to shrivel because of my lack of discipline and consistent pursuit of God.
In the Fall I moved to a new church community and slowly started to become revived. For the first time I began to understand Calvin’s assertion that theology is only truly theology when it’s lived out. I can no longer divorce orthodoxy from obedience. As time went on, I got swept up in the various means of grace that God has given his church (to be talked of more later), and I was drawn to Him. In the midst of my “dry season” (as we charismatics call them) I feebly reached for a few resources to keep the dwindling flame alive. I eventually got my hands on a sweet copy of the Book of Common Prayer. As of about a month ago, after getting some help, I actually began getting up at a consistent early time and doing some morning devotions. I’ve even been doing some evening devotions as well. I’ve been more consistent in my thinking, writing, and planning. It’s been amazing. I feel my soul revived. After reading that Lent post from last year, I can’t help but wonder if this newfound discipline and productivity are the fruits of the grace obtained in last year’s Lent season.
It certainly wouldn’t surprise me. This is because in the past year since my Facebook Lent, my entire theology of sacrament and tradition has changed. Like I said, at the time, I just thought that Lent and its various trappings were just some funny Catholic things that could be helpful in a purely symbolic, practical sense. Since then, not only have I realized that Protestant denominations participate, but I’ve begun to see all these things as very real gifts of God he has given his church that are extremely powerful means of grace for believes. It’s not just symbolic and it’s not just a good “reminder” of things. There are very real spiritual things happening as we gather, sing, follow gospel-shaped liturgies, partake in communion, pray ancient prayers (and some not-so-ancient ones), recite ancient creeds, and join all of church history in these holy days and seasons of the church calendar.
This was never more evident to me than this past week during my very first Ash Wednesday service. It took place in the nearly empty sanctuary of an Anglican Church in the suburbs. There was a tight liturgical form, lots of flipping pages and switching between various books and pamphlets to follow along, and many potential distractions, but the Holy Spirit met us there. It was so intense. We were all just exhausted afterward — spiritually, emotionally, and physically.The Communion was one of the most mystical I’ve ever tasted — my mouth was watering for it. I did do the whole ash on the forehead thing, and I still can’t describe the holiness of that moment as the priest’s thumb went across my forehead saying “My brother, remember that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” I’ve been to some pretty charismatic meetings, but that was the closest I’ve ever been to truly being “slain in the Spirit.” If I hadn’t already been kneeling, I may have actually fallen to the ground at that moment.
What’s funny is that after finding a new treatment of the season and tasting some growth in discipline that last year’s Lent season brought me, this makes this year’s 40 days a new thing in and of itself that can be spiritually “attacked” and distracted from. And this has happened. Ever since Wednesday night, I’ve gone right back to going to bed super late and sleeping in late. One of the things I’m fasting from — internet after 7pm — has already seen many failures in the past several days.
This is actually encouraging, though. It shows me that I have tapped a truly valuable well of grace from my Savior, and my unredeemed “flesh” hates it. This Lent season is already shaping up to be one of the most intense and sanctifying periods of my life. Too many weird things have happened in just a week’s time that have God setting up the environment to deal with a lot of my own baggage and perverse thought processes. It’s terrifying, dizzying, and so ecstatic all at the same time. Oh the joy to be joined to this great God and Savior! I’m reminded once more of Joe Weil’s quote:
“It is better to be annihilated and crushed by God, if you are in love with God, then it is to have no relationship at all. Better God smite you then merely be absent. God does not ‘tolerate’ me. God loves me.”
Indeed. May this Lent season be to you a time of sensitivity to, and mourning over, your own sin; and may you, in that mournful posture be brought to look ahead to the cross and Easter morning, when you were vindicated by and before your God.
Do you plan on celebrating Lent? Why or why not? What are you fasting? What does this mean to you?Do you have any stories of Lent past?