Lenten Mormon

February 20, 2013 | 26 comments
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I’ve been observing Lent for a few years now. And every year I run into consternation from other latter day Saints. Every year I’m told “Mormons don’t observe Lent.”Last year I reflected on this at the end of Lent.

I fast as a Mormon, but that doesn’t mean I can’t take advantage of the period of Lent.
I pray as a Mormon, do the scripture reading and contemplative thinking that we class as meditation, but I also practice yoga for its meditative and mind-clearing effects as well as the physical benefits. I actively seek out good faith practices developed by other traditions and use them to strengthen my own lived faith.

“… Mormonism is truth, in other words the doctrine of the Latter-day Saints, is truth. … The first and fundamental principle of our holy religion is, that we believe that we have a right to embrace all, and every item of truth, without limitation or without being circumscribed or prohibited by the creeds or superstitious notions of men, or by the dominations of one another, when that truth is clearly demonstrated to our minds, and we have the highest degree of evidence of the same.” (Letter from Joseph Smith to Isaac Galland, Mar. 22, 1839, Liberty Jail, Liberty, Missouri, published in Times and Seasons, Feb. 1840, pp. 53–54; spelling and grammar modernized. )

This goes along with my favorite article of faith:

We claim the privilege of worshiping Almighty God according to the dictates of our own conscience, and allow all men the same privilege, let them worship how, where, or what they may.

The 11th article of faith creates room for us to respect others’ right to belief and practice. And Mormons do, in general, co-exist quite peacefully with other faiths. But surely we can allow that Mormons themselves may approach their worship of God in different ways, that the “dictates of our own conscience” can refer to each person, even to each Mormon. The collective consciousness of shared beliefs that unify us as Mormons is not the same as the individual conscience of each Mormon.

There is room in Mormonism for a variety of approaches to God. Some of us focus on the healing of the atonement, others find solace in seeking out Heavenly Mother. Some of us dedicate our energy to indexing and temple work, and others to home and visiting teaching and serving our physical neighbors. We read and pray and hold family home evening meetings. We go to church and sing and take the sacrament. We all live our lives by the light of the gospel, but none of our lives is the same. Our weaknesses are balanced by the strength of our fellow saints. We should not strive to be the same. Rather we should strive to be unified, to welcome other travelers into this broad vision of Mormonism in which we all have a place to be, a service to offer, and edification to receive.

I would never want to hold up my practice of faith as the model that all others must follow. Just because I love Lent, doesn’t mean that I think all others should as well. And I end each day having come up short of my personal ideals. I am not the archetype. There is only one who was without shortcomings. That was Christ. And for me, Lent is one way that I try to follow His example.

26 Responses to Lenten Mormon

  1. Kim on February 20, 2013 at 9:43 am

    I started observing Lent while at BYU and it’s one of my favorite yearly traditions. Over the years, I’ve tried to focus more on what I can give up that will bring the spirit into my life than giving up chocolate or sugar how I used to, but no matter what I’ve given up, I always feel stronger and more faithful by the end of it.

  2. emig on February 20, 2013 at 9:55 am

    I’ve observed Lent for the several years as well and have had similar experiences. In the past few years I’ve been more drawn to learn about other religious traditions – following http://www.projectconversion.com was a great experience for me, as was reading Jana Reiss’s “Flunking Sainthood” and A.J. Jacob’s “Year of Living Biblically.” Bishop Krister Stendahl’s concept of “holy envy” is one I think most people would benefit from if considered with sincere intent.

  3. SilverRain on February 20, 2013 at 10:41 am

    Sometimes I think my entire life is one long Lent.

  4. Kristina on February 20, 2013 at 11:04 am

    I have observed Lent all of my life as a way to exclude needless things and focus on the Savior. My first Lent as a Latter-day Saint had me giving up cigarettes, a habit it did NOT pick back up after Easter. For the last 10 years my Lent “sacrifice” has been to give up sodas and desserts, meaning I haven’t had a Shamrock Shake from McDonalds in 10 years (now THAT is sacrifice!). In addition to removing things from my life during Lent, I also attempt to add a spiritual focus by reading either a scripture or a talk about the Savior’s Atonement each day for the 6 weeks. By observing this way I have tied in the faith of my fathers with the faith I now espouse. I see no contradiction.

  5. chris on February 20, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Curious if in your fast as part of lent you donate a fast offering and if so how often?

  6. Cameron N on February 20, 2013 at 11:06 am

    Thanks for sharing Rachel.

    I suspect the negative reactions from LDS friends are based on the idea that we’re trying to change forever, and a set period of repentance, so to speak, seems like a decision to stay where one is, spiritually, rather than moving forward until the perfect day (note this is coming from someone who is in many ways spiritually stagnant regardless of Lent or fasting). If Lent were adapted to be a time of (attempted) permanent change where each year we try to get one step closer toward the perfect day, people might react differently.

    On the other hand, I think that unofficially recognizing and observing some of the holidays in our families and in church (in talks/lessons) relating to specific events in the Savior’s ministry is very healthy and would greatly benefit us. My mission President, a Catholic boy from Price Utah who converted while in high school, made a similar remark on Good Friday on my mission.

    A final comment – I appreciate how pregnancy catalyzed your observance of Lent! My wife always misses fasting and tries to observe it in some form or another.

  7. Cameron N on February 20, 2013 at 11:14 am

    Okay, I lied…a few more thoughts: while we each have predispositions to certain portions of gospel living, we are all striving to live all principles, and I think the Atonement kind of has its own category, beyond visiting, service, and Heavenly Mother. It is our duty to accept and practice ‘all of the above’ as soon as possible–not that you were implying otherwise–I know blog posts can be spontaneous.

    But, I do love how we believe in all truth. Being the horrible Elders Quorum teacher that I am, I paraphrased the Joseph Smith quote on truth during our lesson on ‘Learning By Faith’ a few weeks ago. I felt like I should do so as we had a learned non-member friend present in the group and it is also one of my favorite doctrines of the church that I wish non-members understood about us.

  8. CJ Douglass on February 20, 2013 at 11:32 am

    In recent years, I’ve attended a few (Protestant) Ash Wednesday services that focus on Lent only as a preparation for the celebration of Easter. What Mormon would object to that? And who of all the traditions need it more than us? Maybe if we observed Lent, there would be less Jesus-less Easter Sundays in our wards and branches.

  9. Bryce on February 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm

    I have followed Lent for the past 5 years or so. I love telling people at work what I’ve given up for Lent and getting the response, “I didn’t know you were Catholic.” I usually get a puzzled look when I say, “I’m not.” I don’t make it an overly spiritual occasion. I give up soda or facebook or eating out at lunch. Very superficial. But it’s fun.

  10. M Buxton on February 20, 2013 at 1:00 pm

    I am disheartened but not surprised by the “consternation” of your fellow saints. I agree that your lenten observance can be a meaningful and powerful way to grow spiritually and prepare for Easter. While attending a Catholic university, I would tell my Catholic friends only half-jokingly that Mormons observe Lent year-round, but I think using the pre-Easter period as a time to make an “extra” sacrafice is a great idea. It is too bad that many Latter-day Saints have a knee-jerk reaction against religious practices of other faiths without really evaluating whether there is something in the practice that could help their own spirituality. I have bitten my tongue when I have heard some Mormons criticize the “ritualistic” aspect of Catholic mass without even thinking that our temple ceremonies are at least, if not more, ritualistic. I also whole-heartedly agree with CJ that we need to do more to avoid “Jesus-less Easter Sundays.” I groaned within myself last Easter when the Elders Quorum lesson in my ward, apparently because of a scheduling problem, was on emergency preparedness. C’mon, it’s EASTER for heaven’s sake!

  11. Rachel Whipple on February 20, 2013 at 1:32 pm

    Chris, I honestly hadn’t considered doing an additional fast offering for Lent. I do donate our regular fast offering during lent because there is a fast Sunday during that time. This year for lent, instead of having a dietary focus, our family has given up our car. I think I could easily add the amount I would have spent on gas during this time to our next fast offering. Thanks for the idea.

  12. YvonneS on February 20, 2013 at 1:34 pm

    The logic of observing lent is interesting to me. While I would not say it is not appropriate if one wants to do that with an eye toward giving up something that will help with spiritual growth; I doubt that it is a tradition that comes from any other place than the Catholic Church. In other countries the tradition is to celebrate for about 40 days before Ash Wednesday. The parties are wild and most enjoyable. At the end, on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, people dress up in colorful Halloween type clothing and have a parade. That is what the carnival in New Orleans is about.

    Please don’t get me wrong I don’t care if anyone in the church wants to observe something during the period preceding Easter. Lent is nothing like what precedes it. It is a quiet thoughtful time. I think that would be good for all of us. So I guess what I am saying is that as long as it is done in order to grow spiritually and to better understand Easter then it is fine as long as it doesn’t take anything away from what is already there.

  13. Adam G. on February 20, 2013 at 2:06 pm

    I do stuff like this to (not Lent specifically, but the same kind of thing), but its hard to avoid a strong whiff of self-congratulation about it.

  14. Rachel Whipple on February 20, 2013 at 2:26 pm

    I hope I don’t burn your nostrils, Adam. :) Although I take pains to avoid projecting that kind of an attitude, it is nigh onto impossible to say anything positive about oneself or one’s life choices without others interpreting it as smug, superior, self-congratulatory, or a condemnation of other choices. It is especially tricky online. But I, perhaps foolishly, persist in trying.

  15. Cameron N on February 20, 2013 at 3:17 pm

    @ CJ (8)

    I’ve never attended a Jesus-less Easter Sunday in the church, as every hymn, talk, and sacrament ordinance mentions Him. I’m curious what you mean by this.

  16. Mark B. on February 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm

    So, a lesson (or talk) about food storage gets you over the “Jesus-less” hurdle so long as the ritual “in the name of Jesus, Amen” gets stuck onto the end?

    I don’t think so.

  17. Adam G. on February 20, 2013 at 4:03 pm

    Rituals matter. The very context makes it about Jesus and his gospel, which is why Mormon discussions of food storage and getting out of debt are so much fun–they reenchant the ordinary.

  18. chris on February 20, 2013 at 4:39 pm

    I think donating 10x the equivalent of the gas you saved is a great idea :)

    I’m of the old school Isaiah approach on fasting. It’s not about tormenting yourself and self-sacrifice. It’s about undoing the heavy burdens, setting the oppressed free, clothing the naked, feeding the hungry.

    Of course, I know there are other approaches and thoughts to fasting (or abstaining from XYZ). I just think we get so much more out of it when we combine self-denial with outward blessings to others. Even more so when the outward contribution to others “hurts”.

  19. Becky on February 20, 2013 at 5:04 pm

    For me the experience of Lent goes something like this thought process: I want a soda. I can’t have a soda. Why can’t I have a soda? Because I gave it up for Lent. Why did I give it up for Lent? To prepare for Easter and point my heart toward Jesus.

    Suddenly instead of thinking of my sugar craving I am thinking of Christ. So while even I can think of giving up soda (or whatever) as trite, the end result is anything but. I love borrowing from other faith traditions to enhance my own spiritual life. I’ll take whatever works and is remotely compatible.

  20. CJ Douglass on February 20, 2013 at 8:20 pm

    Cameron N, its the talks that I’m speaking of. And maybe I should have been more specific. If the talks and lessons (or any other teaching) on Easter Sunday is anything other than Atonement specific, I call it Jesus-less yes. Would your ward ever skip having a Christmas program in December?

  21. john roberts on February 21, 2013 at 2:22 am

    yes, my ward did skip a Christmas lesson in Dec. no talks, no songs nothing. has happened more than once. I always have Catholic mid-night mass .

  22. chris on February 21, 2013 at 3:31 am

    “Would your ward ever…”
    I sure we’re always on our A-game and always having meaningful, deeply spiritual family home evenings. Always pointing our kids to Christ, always living up to our covenants with exactness, every handling every Christmas moment in a Christ-like, non-worldly way, etc. you get the idea.

    The Lord’s church is run by imperfect people. And even within the midst of our many mistakes, we still often find inspiration, notwithstanding an occaisonal sacrament meeting on the Word of Wisdom during Easter.

    In general though, I certainly sympathize with the point that we need to relate more of our sacrament meetings back to the atonement and true Christ-like discipleship. I do my part where appropriate and try to be patient when it seems like the topics or content isn’t as focused as I’d hope.

  23. Jerri on February 21, 2013 at 11:52 pm

    Lent, an opportunity for self-reflection and possibly improvement. And the downside to that would be?

  24. Clyde on February 22, 2013 at 3:49 pm

    Do you observe Mardi Gras as well? It seems to be a big part of Lent.

  25. JR on February 23, 2013 at 11:41 pm

    On an anti-Mormon site for once they went after some one else first then tied it back to how awful and misguided Mormons are. They went after Episcopal Priests, who stood out on sidewalks on Ash Wednesday, and put ashes on peoples foreheads, random people. Gasp! This site was very critical of these Priests doing this, because how could the Priests know who the sinners and non-Christians were? How could Christian Priests do this, they ask. The people who run that site are Unbelievable. If getting ashes on one’s forehead helps them to remember the Savior then what is the harm? And they claim Mormons are not Christians.

  26. GD on February 25, 2013 at 5:32 am

    JR, no surprise to me. In my experience the anti’s are not so much about trying to get to Jesus as they are about spreading their bitterness and grinding their axes.