Spring Training March 16, 2007Posted by Ninja Michael in Theology.
One of my favourite things about journeying into Anglo-Catholic ninjahood has been Lent, believe it or not. It’s quite surprising, considering that the church I grew up in was not devoid of Lenten observance, and that I hadn’t especially gotten into it. One congregation we attended put up a board each spring advertising “40 Days of Prayer and Fasting”, along with a sign up sheet for particular days (with particular prayer intentions for each day). I think that actually signed my name up once or twice, and either forgot which days I had signed up for, or just didn’t make much progress in the intercessory prayer or fasting categories – and, since we were supposed to be praying for particular people, I felt incredibly guilty. I was a little young, of course, although there are lots of little kids who do great at Lenten observences. It seems to me that you just have to know how to properly go about Lent, and to be prepared for it. Also, that you have a theological underpinning for why you are actually doing this.
There are many reasons, but I never thought about them very much until the past few years. Perhaps the first that comes to mind for me is the santification of time. Jesus Christ, our Lord and God, through His holy Incarnation, entered into time. He was prophesied in time, was born in time, and now time witnesses of Him. Each year we celebrate the birth of Christ, and much of the world still tends to number years from that birth. In Christ we find time and eternity, and thus, in some small way, we can witness to the Eternity of Jesus through the Times of Jesus. Including Lent, which in the Christian calendar falls roughly between the season of Epiphany (which, especially for the Eastern Churches, is a celebration of the Baptism of Christ as well as the Visitation of the Magi) and Christ’s death on the Cross. Immediately after Jesus’ baptism, he fasted. Therefore, we as well take forty days to journey with our Saviour, as a pilgrimage into His ministry, following him to the Cross. But it is not just his fast we commemorate, or his death we anticipate. In this fast, we enter into the whole of the Christian mystery, and find how God’s grace has sanctified even time, even self deprivation.
There are many benefits to the Lenten discipline – it does tend to give one a greater appreciation for the thing that one has given up. Meat has never tasted so good to me as during Lent. And, I have learned to value many fish and vegetarian dishes that I never thought I would like. I have begun to see this time of year as something to look forward to, almost as a sort of appetizer, where my hunger for the feast is awakened. Disciplining oneself in one area often helps with other areas. We are encouraged to “take up”, not just give up things for Lent. If one saves money on food or entertainment, it is good to give it to those who are in need. Time saved from certain activities can be devoted to others. It is part of a whole package of spiritual discipline.
These two attitudes – towards time, and towards spiritual discipline in general – figure into my earlier failure to get started on Lent. I didn’t appreciate what the season was for. It had no particular beginning; most Evangelical churches do not observe Ash Wednesday, and so – even if Lent is observed somehow – it is difficult to get into the swing of it. (The Church has historically recognized this by having a “pre-Lent” period as well! Traditional Anglicans still observe it.) We tend not to mark time well without ritual; they are intimately connected. Without a beginning, no wonder that the days of Lent, instead of a journey, became individual days of prayer that one could sign up for, disconnected of larger reality, and easily forgotten. Without a sense that this season was, first and foremost, a witness to the Incarnate Lord, and secondly, a way of growing my relationship with Him, it was next to impossible to use it to intercede for the needs of others. There is no foundation!
So, in short, if you want to observe a Holy Lent (and it is certainly not too late… you can begin next Sunday), understand how it fits into the Church year. Journey consciously through Advent, Christmas, Epiphany (and pre-Lent) as well. Prepare. Keep up your excercise through the year. Perhaps Lent can be used to kick off a practice of fasting or abstaining from meat one day a week; after doing it everyday for weeks, one day becomes rather easy. Attend an Ash Wednesday service next year; for now, or if beginning Lent late in the future, do something in your private prayers to mark the beginning of your fast. (If your church doesn’t do Ash Wednesday, it is a perfect opportunity to visit another church, or perhaps to request such a service in your own congregation.) Remind yourself of your mortality, of Jesus saving death and resurrection, and begin to journey with him in the desert. (Think of it as spring training for ninjas.)