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Why Baptists Practice Lent?

I grew up going to Baptist & Methodist churches (we moved 5 times during my childhood), but I specifically remember the first time my family recognized Lent. For most of my childhood, Lent, the ashes, eating only fish on Fridays, all of that was foreign to me…only my Catholic friends would do those things.

For spring break growing up, my extended family and I would camp at James Island in Charleston, South Carolina. There was this delicious soda fountain we would go to at least once during our week together. One day at lunch (I was in 6thgrade, I believe) everyone was talking about what flavor ice cream they were going to get (chocolate chip cookie dough here!) and I remember my aunt saying she wasn’t going to get any. Now, this woman loves ice cream. So, for her to pass up ice cream, I’m pretty sure the Earth stopped rotating for a few minutes.

I asked her why she wasn’t going to have ice cream and she explained that she was giving it up for Lent. I honestly replied back, “Oh I thought that was only for Catholics.” That led into a discussion that many Baptists, and Christians in general, have. Who should “celebrate” Lent, what do we do (or don’t do), and why recognize Lent?

Well, instead of me answering these questions, check out this great blog post from Alan Rudnick, who is way more qualified than I, to explain as to Why Baptist Should Celebrate Ash Wednesday (and Lent, in general).

So, why do I bring up this topic? I was at the grocery store on Sunday buying items for the kids’ Ash Wednesday activity and this lady behind me asked if I was making dirt cups (I had chocolate cake mix, pudding, and gummy worms…yes, might seem like an odd combo for Ash Wednesday, but just hang tight!). I told her what it was for and she was surprised that Baptists do the ashes. She admitted to coming to church very irregularly and asked what the ashes were all about anyway.

I’ve thought a lot about that conversation in the past couple of days. My perception of Lent has changed a lot since my first interaction in the 6th grade, as it seems like everyone gives up something for Lent these days. It feels now to me that it’s just a part of culture to “do Lent.” In college (I went to UCF, not a religiously affiliated university), it seemed like my peers used it as a good reason to give up junk food and lose weight; now the ever popular sacrifice is social media.  My new friend from Publix even admitted to giving stuff up, but not exactly sure why she did it.

So, why do we recognize Ash Wednesday & Lent? Ultimately (and very simply put), Ash Wednesday is to recognize our sins and the need for forgiveness. Lent is the season (40 days) to prepare our hearts and minds for Holy Week and Easter. You can use the time of Lent to get right with God.Traditionally, you chose to focus on one thing to give up during Lent, but it can be so much more than that. When preparing our kids for Lent, focus on three pieces during this time – prayer, giving, and fasting.

I find it extra special that Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day this year. A day we recognize love is also a day we recognize our sins and need for a love far greater than any earthly love. And that love is free – no strings attached!

I leave you with this question – how will you practice Lent this year?  This is my last blog post as a staff member; as I am transitioning to be a full time stay at home wife & mom, and I want to stress how important it is that we make a daily effort to constantly improve our relationship with God. No matter what life has thrown at us, or we might be angry with God, or we might be frustrated with church, I encourage you to really use the next 6 weeks of Lent to make your faith stronger. 

Thank you for allowing me to serve you as a staff member the past two and a half years. I look forward to now serving alongside you.

Many blessings and Happy Lent,

Crystal Holic

Minister of Community Outreach

P.S.: Here’s a link to the kids’ Ash Wednesday chocolate cake activity. I love, love, love doing this with kids. My prayer is that it sticks with them as they continue to grow in their faith.

Posted by Crystal Holic with

Show Up

Today I had lunch with a church member who said, “Sometimes the best thing you can do is show up.”  He was saying that in an entirely different context but he could have equally have said that with regard to prayer.  On our Winter Spiritual Retreat Peter Lord passed out the following article about showing up for prayer.  It has revolutionized my prayer life—probably because it gives me permission to be more or less engaged as needed.  But regardless the article was helpful to me.  I hope it’s helpful for you. 

-Pastor Jack

 

In a sermon at a wedding, Dietrich Bonhoeffer once gave this advice to a young couple: “Today you are young and very much in love and you think that your love can sustain your marriage.  It can’t.  Let you marriage sustain your love.” 

Love and prayer work the same: The beginners’ mistake is to think that they can be sustained simply through good feelings and good intention, without the help of a ritual-container and a sustaining rhythm.  That’s naive, however sincere.  Love and prayer can only be sustained through ritual, routine and rhythm.  Why?

What eventually makes us stop praying, John of the Cross says, is simple boredom, tiredness, lack of energy.  It’s hard, very hard, existentially impossible, to crank-up the energy, day in and day out, to pray with real affectivity, real feeling and real heart.  We simply cannot sustain that kind of energy and enthusiasm.   We’re human beings, limited in our energies, and chronically too-tired, dissipated and torn in various directions to sustain prayer on the basis of feelings.  We need something else to help us.  What?

Ritual – a rhythm, a routine.

Monks have secrets worth knowing and anyone who has ever been to a monastery knows that monks (who pray often and a lot) sustain themselves in prayer not through feeling, variety or creativity, but through ritual, rhythm and routine.  Monastic prayer is simple, often rote, has a clear durational expectancy and is structured so as to allow each monk the freedom to invest himself or hold back, in terms of energy and heart, depending upon his disposition on a given day.  That’s wise anthropology.

Prayer is like eating.  There needs to be a good rhythm between big banquets and the everyday family supper.  A family that tries to eat every meal as if it were a banquet soon finds that most of its members are looking for an excuse to be absent.  With good reason.  Everyone needs to eat every day, but nobody has energy for a banquet every day.  The same holds true for prayer.  One wonders whether the huge drop-off of people who used to attend church services daily isn’t connected to this.  People attended daily services more when those services were shot, routine, predictable and gave them the freedom to be as absent (in terms of emotional investment) as their energy and heart allowed on that given day.

Today, unfortunately, we are misled by a number of misconceptions about prayer and liturgy.  Too commonly we accept the following set of axioms as wise:

A. Creativity and variety are always good.

B. Every prayer – celebration should be one with high energy.

C. Longer is better than shorter.

D. Either you should pray with feeling or you shouldn’t pray at all.

E. Ritual is meaningless unless we are emotionally invested in it. 

Each of these axioms is over romantic, ill thought out, and not helpful in sustaining a life of prayer.

Prayer is a relationship, and long-term.

Relating to anyone long-term has its ups and downs.  Nobody can be interesting all the time, sustain high energy all the time, or fully invest themselves all the time.  What sustains a relationship long-term is ritual, routine, a regular rhythm that incarnates the commitment.

Imagine you’ve an aged mother in a nursing home and you’ve committed yourself to visiting her twice a week.  How do you sustain yourself in this?  Not a feeling, energy or emotion, but a commitment, routine and ritual.  You go to visit her at a given time, not because you feel like it, but because it is time.

You go to visit her in spite of the fact you sometimes don’t feel like it, you sometimes can’t give her the best of your heart, and often you are tired and distracted.  Occasionally there will be emotional satisfaction and the sense of sometime important was shared, but many times, perhaps most times, there will only be the sense that it was good that you were there and that an important life-giving connection has been nurtured and sustained, despite what seemingly occurred at the surface. 

You’ve been with your mother and that’s more important than whatever feelings or conversation might have taken place on a given day.

Prayer works the same way, that’s why the saints and the great spiritual writers have always said that there is only one, non-negotiable, rule for prayer: “Show up!  Show up regularly!”  The ups and downs of our minds and hearts are of secondary importance.

article by Ron Rolheiser

Posted by Jack Mercer with

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