As I mentioned a few days ago, I left a few friends scratching their heads after seeing a picture of me with ashes on my head. Most of my friends are Evangelical/Nondenom Prots, with my family being mostly Oneness Pentecostals. Sure, I’ve got some Catholics (a great deal of my in-laws are), a sprinkling of Seven Day Adventists, Baptists and such, but most fall into that first group. So they know nothing of ash except soot and Lent is confused with “lint” and they want to grab a roller to get rid of the fuzz.
I get that liturgy and set prayers and heavy routine ain’t for everybody. Where I see form, many see prison. I get that. I just wish that they would at times consider the positives. This post by Jake Meador shared by my blog buddy Rod Dreher puts into words some of the reasons why I take solace in the regularity. Meador is Evangelical and is writing on Catholicism, but it works for Orthodoxy, Episcopalian, Anglican, Lutheran and high church Methodism, too. Here’s an excerpt:
What I find so attractive, therefore, about Catholicism is the fact that many–though certainly not all–of the practices within the church are grounded in something beyond fad and the opinion of a single pastor or leader. Put another way, I think a huge part of me would actually like it if my pastor said, “For the next 40 days, you’re fasting.” I wouldn’t like it if he was just making a power-play, trying to bind my conscience and create a new means through which to shame me. But if he could say, “You are fasting for the next 40 days because it is a practice that Christians have done in different ways for centuries and it has proven a helpful tool for spiritual formation,” then I would love to be told to do something like that. And that seems a much easier thing for a Catholic or Orthodox believer to say than a Protestant.
I say all that because this is why I really like and appreciate Lent. If someone just tells me, “You need to die with Christ,” I’ll look at them and say, “OK. It’s in the Bible, so you’re right. But I don’t know how to do that.” But with Lent, I have something of an answer–Lent teaches Christians how to die. And so for me, I find myself at one of my jobs going through my feed reader wanting to post things here and I can’t do it because of the “fast” I’m taking during Lent. Something that seems very natural and instinctive and that allows me to kinda prop myself up as a blogger–that’s out for this season. Instead, I have to make myself read the story simply because it interests me. That other potential motive for reading–seeing the story as a means for exalting myself–is out of bounds for this season.
It’s a trivial thing, to be sure. There will be far harder lessons God must teach me on my way to dying to myself so that I can be resurrected with Christ. But it’s a little lesson that I’m able to recognize and talk about in concrete language. And for that I’m grateful.
I know a few Emergent-leaning Christians who find nothing odd about ritual, either. I do find it quite interesting that my dad looks at me as if I have two heads for fasting during Lent, but instructed his church to do an abbreviated Daniel Fast just last month. I sometimes feel some Prots recoil at anything that seems too “Catholic” without even having an actual reason why. I find it ironic then that so many embrace the writings of the Anglican C.S. Lewis and the Catholic G.K. Chesterton.