When I was growing up I never associated Lent with much more than fish sandwiches in school lunches on Fridays. My Catholic friends sometimes gave up sweets or something similar, but I never understood why. Growing up Baptist in a small church in Texas did not expose me to very many liturgical traditions.
Through reading more widely, traveling, and making friends with deeply spiritual people of different traditions, I've come to appreciate and love many of the more liturgical traditions. Ash Wednesday and the season of Lent have become full of meaning to me and important markers in my spiritual journey.
For years now I have been attending Ash Wednesday services, usually at Episcopal churches around whatever town I happen to be in (after years of moving services at Abilene's Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest) and this year at my large Baptist church in the suburbs. As the priest or pastor or whomever places ashes on your forehead in the shape of the cross, ashes from last year's palm Sunday palms, they remind you that you are dust, and to dust you will return.
It's a call to repentance. It's a visible sign to remind you of your place. It's a call inward.
Those of you who know me well know that I love to set goals and resolutions. Lent for me is sometimes a do over for New Year's resolutions--a time to refocus on them without the clutter of holiday hangovers. Usually it's a time to go deeper, though. Lent is a time to remove something from your life that you don't plan to take back up (at least not in the same way) after Easter. Or, it's a time to focus on a discipline or habit that can become a part of your life from Easter onward.
My Lenten journeys have taken me different places. I've found the thing I decide to give up or take on is usually much more difficult than I planned. I "gave up" grudges one season in an effort to embrace forgiveness more wholeheartedly, and honestly, for the first time. It turns out that grudges are the kinds of things that are much more pervasive than I realized. When you start looking for things you find them.
I wasn't sure what I wanted to focus on this year for Lent. I was at least a week late in deciding on New Year's resolutions this year, and, with Ash Wednesday sneaking up on me, I was afraid the same would be true of a Lenten discipline this year. One of the things I love about the liturgical seasons is that they force me to confront things that I would continually put off without a deadline of sorts. So, I made some space and gave it some thought.
As I thought through what I am struggling with, what is holding me back, and who I want to be after Easter, I realized that I'd been talking about enough a lot lately. Enough is the opposite of scarcity. And the thought and fear of scarcity, of not enough, has permeated just about everywhere we turn without us even realizing it.
So this year, my Lenten journey is about meditating on enough. About having enough things, enough money, enough time. About being enough. About giving enough. About others being and giving enough. About others not having enough. I'm not sure how this will play out by Easter, but this meditation is already taking me deeper and in directions I did not anticipate.
So, for those who have never participated in Lent in a meaningful way, or for those who didn't get around to inviting the Lenten season into their awareness this year, I give you permission to start now. We are only 13 days in. (Easter is still almost 5 weeks away.)
Here are some ideas for Lent if you are looking for something to get you started, more explanation or to spur on some ideas: 40 Ideas for Lent 2014, by Rachel Held Evens
[Also, if you are taking on or giving something up this year, I'd love to hear about what you are focusing on.]