01 March, 2017

Gathering my thoughts about Lent

I'm going to the annual retreat for women in ministry just after lunch today, I'm driving our eight-seater van full of women keen to retreat with each other and with the Lord. It is always a precious time of fellowship and worship and I'm looking forward to it, but I've got some things on my plate that I'm trying to get done before I left. Writing a thoughtful blog post wasn't one of those, but I have blog post just straining itself to be written and I daren't ignore that.

Today is the start of Lent. Before I came to Japan that wasn't something on my horizon at all. I grew up in the Presbyterian church and with almost no liturgy or liturgical traditions at all. I went to a Lutheran school for primary school, but somehow those traditions celebrated at school didn't infiltrate my life much.

But when we came to Japan that changed a bit as we interacted with people from many different backgrounds. Probably more so at CAJ than in OMF, but still we've encountered quite a variety. Now there are people around us who strictly or not-so-strictly celebrate Advent and Lent and it makes me think. It has, actually seemed to become quite "trendy" among many evangelicals to do such things. I don't know if that is just because my social circle has widened beyond Presbyterians and Baptists, or if that is actually the case.

So it was interesting to come across an article today about this from someone who doesn't think this rise in Lenten observance is such a good idea. The title of the article is "Repent of Lent: How Spiritual Disciplines can be Bad for Your Soul" I'm not totally enamoured by the article, there tends to be some repetition of pet phrases (that's the editor in me coming in there), but the author does have some interesting things to say:
It also seems as though there is a growing cultural awareness of “giving up” things for Lent. Lent has a certain cache; It’s cool, like a cleanse, only involving God, and prayer. Our tolerant society broadly embraces asceticism, at least the temporary sort that doesn’t hurt too much, or just enough whip your body or soul into shape.
This cuts deep: 
 The spiritual-minded experience fasting positively because it conforms to our default position about spiritual matters. Deep down, we are all born as Pharisees, believing that sin and salvation are a matter of discipline, something within our control. 
And he expands it later in the article, saying that when we engage in the penitence of Lent we tend to underestimate our own sin. He also says that we can also easily mistaken the purpose of Jesus' suffering as he fasted. He didn't suffer as a model for us, but as a substitute, taking on our sins.

Instead we should follow Jesus' model of suffering for others. We should seek to follow the simple, yet impossible-without-God's-help command “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another" (John 13:34 NIV).

I like the way the article ends:
You are free indeed to fast, or not to fast. This year, consider repenting of Lent. Prepare for Easter by loving your neighbor until it hurts, and embracing the love — and forgiveness — of Christ at Calvary. Trust me, you’ll need it.
That challenges me. Especially as I go away with a bunch of other women for a few days. Loving them...

I saw another article written more from a Confessional point of view (the tradition I come from). It also grates a little on me (extolling "our" tradition a little too much, it seems), but at the same time clarifies some things and has some good points.

I really must move on to other things that need to be done before I leave, barring a couple ore thoughts. 

Here is another article with food for thought about Christians borrowing traditions.

And if you think I am a theologian, up for rigorous debate on this topic you would be wrong. I am merely putting up my thoughts here for others to ponder, as one who is trying to be a thoughtful Christian, thrust outside of the traditions that she has grown up with and still holds to (though I don't go to a Presbyterian church in Japan).

No comments: