Every once in awhile (I am not a theologian, so don’t know the exact occurrence) the eastern and western worlds join together for Lent. Today marks Ash Wednesday, when the western Christians join the eastern Christians and Orthodox, who began Lent on Monday. And it is so joyful to walk together during this season of preparation and a cleansing of our hearts, minds, souls, and bodies as we prepare to walk with Christ to Calvary and weep, and then celebrate with Him His Divine, and glorious, Resurrection.
This year I am doing a new Lenten Study and I am so excited. (It is by http://www.orthodoxmom.com and I highly recommend her blog and her Facebook page, too). I am not in the least artsy, as those who know me well will attest to. But this year, I am keeping a notebook and journals. One is a journal about the Psalms, and another is called the “Gratitude Journal.” And each day’s assignment offers us a time to reflect upon our readings and the things we are grateful for (it is a directed reflection). The first three days have been staggering for me, to say the least. The author of the study has carefully weaved our Scripture readings together and I have already learned so much in such a short time (which is why I was compelled to post).
Lent is a time when we reflect, we pray, and we fast. And through these processes, we hope to come to a better place in our walk with Christ. It is a time when we try to still that chaos that is the world, and spend time in quiet reflection and prayer. In the Scriptures (Matthew 17:19-21), Christ admonishes the Apostles for their lack of faith in trying to exorcise demons:
“Then the disciples came to Jesus privately, and said, “Why weren’t we able to cast it out?” He said to them, “Because of your unbelief. For most certainly I tell you, if you have faith as a grain of mustard seed, you will tell this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you. But this kind doesn’t go out except by prayer and fasting.”
There are times when simple faith is not enough to move the mountains we face, nor exorcise the demons in our lives. We need to pray – and fast. And that is an integral part of Lent. We deny ourselves all this instant gratification. Of course there are many who also admonish that if you Fast from food, but gossip or slander someone, how are you a good Christian? How is that fasting from the demons inside us all? Lust, Greed, Gluttony, Envy, Anger, Pride, and Sloth are characterized as the 7 Deadly Sins. What can we do to eradicate them from our lives? How can we lessen the impact they have upon our souls? The Roman Catholic Church teaches us the Capital Virtues, which counteract each of these sins. They are: Chastity, Generosity, Temperance, Brotherly Love, Meekness, Humility, Diligence. How do we get these virtues? We pray. We starve the enemy of our flesh by denying it the thing it wants. Sloth and Gluttony, I have said many times, sit on either shoulder for me. How do I starve them? I set an alarm clock, I make a list, and I tackle my daily duties with zealous abandon, fighting sloth! This year, I took Facebook off my phone. I am trying to distance myself from social media. It can become a crutch and every bit a sickness, like an addiction. It sucks your time and adds to your sloth. What can you be accomplishing if you spend hours on a computer, reading things that are not necessary, nor edifying, but gauged to our interests so they suck us in? What desire am I feeding? How many sites do I need to go to? How many ways can I distract myself from my life? And how can I combat that? I sometimes have to help my lesser self (or that bad demon on my shoulder) to become my better self (the angel on the other shoulder) by denying myself – on purpose. Gluttony? Well, fasting sure helps with that. We are returning to Whole30 and who knew there was a Whole30 support group for those to use during Lent? So excited to find that! We have to work with what we know to be true about ourselves, in order to help ourselves. It’s why I took Facebook off my phone, along with lots of apps and groups. I make it harder for myself to get to it – like putting that bag of Oreos on top of the fridge, behind the cookbooks, making it harder for me to indulge myself. And to be honest, this year for Lent, there are no cookies in the house to begin with. I know Gluttony all too well. It is one of the many demons I constantly and consistently struggle with. And it is one of the ones I desire most to conquer this Lenten fasting period. I need to control my desire for food and replace it for a desire that will benefit my soul.
Lent is our eternal struggle condensed into just 40 days. But the Church, in her wisdom, gives us this time every year. We are not expected to become Saints overnight. I love that about my faith. I try, sincerely, to make the right choices day in and day out. Some days I get it pretty good and can lay my head on my pillow with a clear conscious. Some nights, not so much. “Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner” is often recited as I finally get to sleep.
During my reading for this Lent, I read an article about forgiveness. In the Eastern and Orthodox Churches, we begin Lent on Forgiveness Sunday. On this day (the Sunday prior to Ash Wednesday) we actually make lines around the Church and each parishioner approaches each other parishioner, asking for and giving, forgiveness. I can honestly say that the first time I participated in this, I wept as I made my way around the Church. How humbling and how beautiful. But when we think about forgiveness, what is it? In this article by Metropolitan Anthony of Sorozh (+2003) in the Orthodox Heritage Vol 05, Issue 2, February 2007, he says, “Forgiveness begins at the moment when, realizing the frailty of others as I realize mine, the need of others for help, for mercy, and for protection, I am prepared together with them to bear the burden of their weakness, their frailty or their sinfulness. Forgiveness begins at the moment when I take it upon myself to put up with others, without waiting for them to change, to put up with them as they are in order to make lighter their burden and to make it possible for them to eventually change.” He goes on later to say, “Every one of us, side by side with them, have people who are difficult to bear, who are a cause of suffering, of misery or of anger; we can undo this anger and outgrow this misery if we make our task, the task of our life, our business, to carry their burden together with them, to be the person who, wounded and offended, and rejected, will turn to God and say, ‘Lord, forgive, because I bear no grudge, I want to become and remain solid with this person in his frailty and his sinfulness. I will not stand in judgement against him, and I am not yet capable of doing this. You do this for me: do not endorse my judgement, do not endorse the condemnation I rashly have pronounced, do not stand by me in my anger. Stand by the person who has done wrong, because he, because she needs help, forgiveness and healing, for that very reason.'”
And so we begin Lent by learning to forgive. Truly forgive. This quote above stunned me into silence. It caused me to rethink what I know about forgiving others. Our Psalm readings were full of the forgiveness from God. And I realized I was actually excited about Lent, and that I was preparing for this Lent to be one of change for me. I was getting a notebook and making dividers; I even got stickers and colored pens! I bought a new journal and yesterday, I began writing things about the Psalms. And I was happy – happy about a task of cleaning my heart and soul and becoming more in tune with God. Because I know I can only become better through this process. As I eagerly began to read the Psalms, I read, “I rejoiced when they said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the Lord.’ And now I am standing within your gates, Jerusalem.” (Pslam 123). And reading that, I smiled. I had been looking forward to this journey, and now I was on the doorstep. And we are all fully into Lent, as of today.
I am apprehensive (as change is always hard) and exultant at the prospect at becoming a better me. God is not done with me, yet. And I know He is not done with any of us, either. Thanks be to God for this opportunity. Blessed and Holy Lent, everyone.