“Rend your hearts and not your clothing.”
Joel, the Old Testament prophet
I was raised Southern Baptist in the Texas Panhandle. My buddies and I were always mystified by the weird stuff them semi-Christian, idolatrous Catholics were up to. Don’t get me wrong, I loved the fish sticks in the school cafeteria every Friday, but every now and again the handful of Catholic kids in class upped the weirdness a bit. Lent was one of those times. My friend Brian would show up with a smudge on his head, and start refusing to eat dessert.
Now I find myself a part of a Baptist congregation (non-Southern variety) that follows the seasons of the church year. I’ve come to understand and value the symbols of this ancient tradition, and the power they have to bind millions of diverse Christians together.
But sadly, I must admit that I’m a cynic when it comes to Lent. I’ve played the “game” over the years, giving up sugar, or meat, or alcohol. I can’t say that it’s ever meant much to me. This year I’d decided to give up giving things up.
Then, a friend sent me a link to an essay by Sister Joan Chittister, along with these comments:
Sort of takes the contest and “anything you can give up I can give up better” crap out of Lent. All of the “what are you giving up?” talk makes my skin crawl. It’s like praying in the marketplace. Do it or don’t do it. Make a personal commitment to God. You owe no one else anything. To discuss it, lessens it. When you talk about it, it becomes about you. Talk about your experience afterward, when you have something to share. That’s where the power is. How did the sacrifice change you? Or, how did failing change you? Did you experience Easter differently because of the change you made for Lent?
There is real suffering in the world. I for one, don’t want to hear how much my friends miss red meat, chocolate or soda!
Hmmmmm… I’m still not sure what, if anything, I’m going to commit to this lenten season. But my friend has convinced me that, at least for me, it’s important that I just keep it to myself.
P.S. You can read Sister Joan’s essay here.