Digging for Lent
February 17, 2010

I grew up in a non-denominational church where we never really talked about the Christian tradition of Lent. I never knew anything about it other than, “That’s when the Catholics walk around with an ash cross on the heads.” And as far as what had been implied to me about such things, it might as well have been a Hindu event, because Hindus put stuff on their foreheads too. (as the image above illustrates)

When I went to college, even though it was a charismatic Christian college, there were at least some there who had come from more liturgical traditions, like Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic, Presbyterian, or Episcopalian, but not many. And there were some theology majors who seemed to be trying out the latest tradition they learned about from their “liberal” profs. And I had a little side gig as a singer at a Methodist church, so I started hearing a bit more about Lent.

I learned that it is part of the Christian calendar, for starters. I really didn’t even know there was an official Christian calendar other than Christmastime and Easter. But that explained some of themes our pastor spoke on when it wasn’t Christmas or Easter but it seemed like some special event was going on that I must have missed the memo about. Since then, I’ve learned a bit more about such traditions, and even though I grew up solidly Christian, it seems each year I find out something else I really didn’t know about, like Maundy Thursday and such. Anyway, I just learned a little more about Lent and I’d like to share it.

My friend Julie (julieclawson.com), the gifted author of Everyday Justice (if you’re into social justice, environmentalism, or local food, you’ll love it), posted on her OneHandClapping blog a note that straightens out something about the Lent discipline of personal sacrifice. You should read the whole post, but here’s one thing that stuck out:

“…Lent isn’t about denial, it is about transformation. It is the season in which we prepare to encounter Christ’s sacrifice by endeavoring to become more Christ like ourselves.”

Now, I still find myself quite awkward around Lent season; maybe its allergies. But even as someone who no longer affirms all the tenets of Christianity, I still want to be more like Jesus or at least try to follow his teachings. And so I’m going to try taking Julie’s advice and keep my thoughts about Lent simple: Just try to embody the things Jesus taught. Things like love and peace and forgiveness. I don’t have to be a Christian to do that. So I think an agnostic can practice Lent, and so can an atheist, or a Buddhist or Hindu…and even a Christian. I may not walk around with ash on my head, but I can try to at least walk more than I talk.