On a random click today, I happened upon a blog discussing Ash Wednesday. It was a Catholic blog that clearly felt that the day was solely a Catholic tradition. The post “explained” Ash Wednesday through a series of church signs between a Catholic church and a couple of other churches. The post itself was harmless enough, I guess, though so dumbed down that they didn’t really explain anything. But it really irked me, probably more than it should have. I have regularly attended 6 or 8 churches over the years (all Episcopalian or Methodist) and all of them have taken Lent very seriously.
I believe that religious beliefs are deeply personal and go well beyond a particular denomination of “the church”. The beliefs of your heart, no matter what the wrapping, are all that really matter. The way I see it, the church you attend says much about the way you like to worship, but little about the validity of your faith.
So how do I view Lent? I’ve tried several things over the years.
In high school, I gave up cursing. I was never a super potty mouth, but I would throw out a word here and there. In a rare moment of introspection, I realized I was only saying those words to look cool to someone else. I decided that was far too immature for me and I resolved to give them up for Lent. It worked quite well, actually.
During my Freshman year of college, I gave up cokes. I stayed reasonably true to my sacrifice (Can you imagine going 6 weeks of college without any caffeine? I rarely go more than one day without it now!) but I felt like I had cheated when Lent ended and I went right back to my one-coke-a-day habit.
I took a different approach during my sophomore year. I hadn’t attended church services very regularly at that point. I went to a weekly youth ministry meeting, but I only went to church now and then. I decided to take something new on-going to church every week-as my Lenten devotion. There was a small Episcopal church across the street from my dorm (I didn’t yet have a car, so walking distance was imperative) with a nice, caring priest and a well meaning-but not well gifted-organinst/choir director. I learned a lot during my years at that church.
The other years of college I continued to take things on-reading the Bible every day, working in a youth ministry, and such things. It was so much easier to really focus on my relationship with Christ back then.
I have to admit my faith has never been as integral in my life as it was in college. Before the distractions of “real” work, marriage, kids, preparing meals, cleaning a house…the list goes on. I’m not quite sure where God is leading me this year, but I’m actively seeking His plan for this Lenten season.
Won’t you join me on this search?
[Please not that I have absolutely no issue with the Catholic church or with Catholics in general, I just didn’t like this one post by this one person. Ok, some of the commenters there bugged me too, but I do think you know what I mean.]