Saturday, March 04, 2006

What...Nothing About Ash Wednesday?

I've been struggling this year with what to choose as a Lenten discipline. For those unfamiliar with the practice, it is a tradition during the season of Lent (40 days and 6 Sundays before Easter) to take on a discipline that helps to humble you and help you reflect on Jesus' suffering. Sometimes this involves being more intentional about prayer and study, sometimes this involves 'giving up' one of your favorite vices such as chocolate, soda, and so on. Through college and seminary, I relished this practice and wanted to make it mean something. A couple years in a row, I gave up television. One year I gave up the internet. I've given up fast food and alcohol a few times each. I've added a daily study before (something I've wanted to do outside of the Lenten season). One year I fasted every Wednesday.

Last year's Lenten practice didn't go so well. I started with the one-day-a-week fasting, but quickly lost my way. Then I decided to alter the fasting practice to only eat bread and vegetables (a way to identify with the poor, as dairy and meat are more expensive). That didn't last either. The season eventually got away from me discipline-wise, although it ended up being meaningful in other ways. I led a study on some of Jesus' parables and in general experienced my first year leading a church through the season.

Lent began on Wednesday, and a discipline still hadn't crystallized yet. We had a modest-sized worship service. I can't help but think that if a meal had been offered beforehand, people would have felt more incentive to come. The turnout is always better if you promise to feed people. It's like bribery via crockpot.

The service itself went well. It centered on the imposition of ashes. People came forward to Jars of Clay's Frail to receive them, heard from the prophet Joel as he admonished the people to 'rend your hearts and not your clothing' (one of my favorite Lenten texts), and saw the altar adorned with clay pots to remind them of their fragility. It lasted maybe a half hour. One or two felt the need to apologize for the small turnout, and I responded that I always look forward to the smaller evening services such as Ash Wednesday, Maundy Thursday, Blue Christmas. There's a different tone to them that one can't experience on Sunday morning. That and I get to be more creative with the liturgy. The people who don't like my 'contemporary' stylings just don't show up to the evening services.

Anyway, a Lenten discipline. I'm keeping it simple this year. Originally, the blog was going to go dark for six weeks. Ironically, I like blogging through Lent so much that I opted not to do that. Yes, I know. What I've settled on is the practice of lectio divina, the practice of reading through scripture and allowing yourself to be caught on a word or phrase. It's a lingering sort of reading where you may get a sentence in and then start meditating. I've chosen the Gospel of Luke as the book I'll be reading. As I work through it, I'll probably have an occasional entry here about it.