Tomorrow is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the Lenten season for many Christians. At Christmastime, there was some conversation about the virtues of non-Mormon worship, including the observance of the Christian calendar.
For me, the Christian calendar, in which the year is ordered around Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and All Saints’ Day is a moving and wonderful way to, as Russell put it, “get off the clock,” to recognize in the rhythm of days and weeks that which is holy.
The idea of Lent is pretty simple–it’s much like Advent in that it is a long season of waiting and preparing for a joyous celebration of birth. But Lent is longer, perhaps because the birth of Easter follows a painful death, and the long waiting of Lent gives us time and space for more complicated emotions than the simpler joy of Christmas. In the (thinly veiled Episcopal) non-denominational church where I first learned about Lent, it was marked not just by simplifying and paring down one’s life, getting rid of extraneous physical and mental junk (of which the most trivial examples are bad habits like overindulgence in chocolate), but also by a renewed dedication to study and learning about Christ–replacing the bad with the foundations of a renewed Christian spirit.
I like this two-fold approach, because it makes it clear that Lent is not just about going without chocolate (or meat or whatever), but about making room for something new to grow. I have tried, with varying success, to somehow make my life simpler for a little while each year, and to commit to some new course of study for the Lenten season. My study has been not terribly original–most years I read the four gospels and III Nephi (and sometimes what was, in our family, referred to as “the sixth gospel”: C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters). My paring down has ranged from lame (one year my big sacrifice was to give up Hot Tamales candy, to which I had developed a fierce addiction) to weird (one time I decided to go without electric lights in my room, and I’ve never known how much of my trouble with Hegel to attribute to plain stupidity and how much to having tried to read him by candlelight!). The best was one year when I didn’t drive my car for 40 days (except to church)–I had so many good thoughts and met/observed so many interesting people walking back and forth from the grocery store, the train station, etc.
So, I have some ideas for habits that I need to shed this year (Evan, no fair commenting on this!), but I’m wondering if y’all have study ideas, or if anyone wants to suggest a group project for Lent–it would be kind of fun to have a Lenten study group of our own…