Friday, February 12, 2016

Valentines Day and Lent

Valentines Day falls on the first Sunday of Lent this year. We could probably ignore that fact since there's very little between them, at least from a cultural perspective. One is supposed to be full of romance, roses, and chocolate, and spending time with the one you love. Not a bad idea and many a marriage therapist would suggest special attention to this day as an opportunity to refocus and put a bit of extra effort into your relationship. Lent on the other hand is often seen as well, a downer. Self-denial, self-reflection concerning guilt and depravity, and what not. Lent seems almost the opposite of Valentines Day - it even calls for -- fasting! Highly liturgical churches will even remove the alleluias from their rituals during Lent. No fun, no rejoicing, certainly no foodie indulgences. Probably best to do Lent on days other than that for lovers.

It is probably true that we spend too much money on those closest to us on Valentines day but we do so to demonstrate something about our relationship, about them, about them as someone special to us. Valentines Day is first about love which is itself, all about self-denial, of giving, of putting someone else first. The problem of course is that we normally focus on someone we are already close to; someone we already feel a connection with. Normally, that's OK.

But this is Lent. Just as Isaiah reminds Israel that a fast her God appreciates is not one spent in sackcloth and ashes (nothing wrong with Lenten ashes), but one that blesses others, that saves or reduces eating so that the extra, rather than being saved, can be given away to those who actually need it. Valentines Day at the beginning of Lent can be a great reminder that Lent is about love, about connection, about others and The Other. In addition to flowers and chocolates for people who already expect them, look for someone who needs that same sort of love, uplifting, or connection.

On this day for lovers, be a cosmic lover.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Lent 2016

Lent is traditionally and routinely considered a period that requires observers to abstain from something they normally enjoy, or behaviors that are not considered reflections of a mature faith. This is characterized as a period of self-denial, of stopping the doing of something for a period of time.

There are two observations we might make this year. The first is that Lent need not involve giving something up that is not conducive to the Christian walk. What if instead of giving something up for 40 days, we began or took something up for those 40 days? Is there something in your walk that is missing, that you have not been consistent in doing? Are there practices you have thought about beginning? Maybe a more consistent quiet time, or an intentional ministering to the homeless or poor? Maybe it's journaling prayers, or maybe something that needs you to be more consistent at home, work, or school. Lent need not be a subtraction, but a growing into something positive, more disciplined, more other-focused.

The second observation is that we shouldn't treat Lent as only a limited period of time of denial or practice. Rather than giving up chocolate for seven weeks, intend to establish a habit of healthier eating that will last beyond Lent. If, rather than subtracting, you elect to add or develop a new practice or behavior, similarly do so with the intent of continuing the practice after Lent, rather than simply as an experiment.

The purpose of Lent can include reflection, waiting, remembering, or in some other way growing closer to God. If this is true, then it may be appropriate to add or begin something rather than ending something. Once begun or ended, whatever we choose for Lent, use the extended period of Lent to establish a basis to launch a truly changed perspective that would live well beyond Lent.

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