Thursday, March 1, 2012

First Lent

So, Lent.

Guess it's a pretty big deal in most of Christendom. Shame that I've never known much of anything about it until this year.

No, it's not a biblically mandated practice. (How much of modern Christian practice is, I ask you?)  It's an ancient tradition.  The Old Testament Law proscribed similar seasons of solemnity, so there appears to be precedent, however.

So what is Lent?  It's a time of reflection and penitence.  At our church, it was suggested to consider adding an act of devotion as well as subtracting a vice or a luxury.  According to Wikipedia, some traditions advocate "prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour)". 

What isn't Lent? Lent isn't a way to "be more spiritual", at least in my experience so far. Instead, it is an opportunity to practice something you normally wouldn't do; to practice self-denial as an exercise, not as a way to make God happy.  It's for God to teach me, not for me to be superior.  And you're advised *not* to participate in that part of Lent if you're going through a difficult time in your life.

And that's one big difference right there from my old Fundamentalist past.  When I was in Fundamentalism, I was told many things that I should do to "be more spiritual".  Usually, there were subtle accompanying messages that the spiritual thing itself made God happier with me, earned God's favor, and made me spiritually superior.  Certain fads like having a "life verse" (a single Bible verse that you claimed as your own and quoted at every opportunity) or having your devotions in the morning rather than at other times of the day fell in this category.  Checking the boxes on these lists somehow made me a truly spiritual Christian.  The more I think about it, the sillier it gets.

Anyway, so what did I give up?  I gave up meat.  Pretty traditional, that.  Ok, fine, I have to be honest - I was already temporarily avoiding meat for a medical reason.  Cut me some slack, it's my first Lent.

And what did I add on?

I added on prayer beads.  (*gasp!!*)

I almost feel guilty admitting it, though I have secretly wanted to ever since I saw a treatise on Anglican Prayer Beads.  I won't repeat their excellent explanation here; you all are adults and can read it yourself.

I think the attraction for me was that I've never really been good at praying for any length of time.  No matter how guilted I was into forcing myself to do it, I'm just too distractable.  It isn't enjoyable in the least for me - probably largely in part because "praying" in Fundamentalism usually meant "asking for a list of things".  It never really felt right - though I thought it was just my sinfulness and rebellion.  In the halfway-house church I was last in, there was at least an emphasis on including praising God, thanking God, and adoring God just as much if not more than asking God for things.  But still, asking for things was the part most felt comfortable with and ended up being the largest participated-in part of prayer meeting.

I finally found some beads that I liked (ie, didn't look like an old person's rosary) and tried them last night.

And you know, I actually enjoyed it.   It wasn't pretty - I was still largely focused on memorizing the words, and still trying to find a series of prayers that fits. However, I was pleasantly surprised that the recommendation to pray around the circle 3 times wasn't as onerous as I thought it would be. I found the rhythm relaxing and found the prayers over almost too quickly.  I tried two different prayers and discovered that I much preferred a different phrase for each "week" bead rather than the same one 7 times in a row, repeated x 3 more times to complete the circle, and then repeat that circle 2 more times... still too much Fundy in me to find that comfortable or useful. 

It's a good mental discipline, but not a painful one, and it helps me focus  - not on trying to make myself more "spiritual" - but on God.  To get beyond myself to contemplate the Divine. 

I continue to be struck by how often that particular concept repeats outside of Fundamentalism: the focus is truly God.  Not what I need to do, be, or say.  It's a dramatic contrast, and I love it. 


  1. As a long-time believer, I'm embarrassed about the Lent thing too. I've only just discovered it for myself two years ago. I gasped out loud when I read about your beads. I've just learned the rosary and am finding much comfort and peace in it. I had no idea there were Anglican beads and prayers. This is all so new to me! Thanks for this post.

  2. What prayers do you do with the rosary, Anne?

  3. The regular Catholic ones. The Apostles Creed, The Lord's Prayer, Glory be to the father, Fatima, Hail Marys (lots). And different mysteries (aspects of the lives of Jesus and Mary) on different days. I have most of the prayers memorized, but I still have to look up which mystery is on which day. I really thought I would never get it when I first started, but I do pretty well now. I have told no one I am doing this, but my husband knows because of the "evidence." A person in my RCIA class gave me a rosary. I would at some point like one with a little nicer beads. I think my IFB ordained minister husband is reconciled to the fact that he is married to a "Catholic." He just wants whatever it takes for me to find peace. I say I am searching for "historic Christianity" and am trying to wash my mind and life of all the baggage fundamentalism has left me with. Here's a link to a document that has the rosary prayers.

  4. Wow, that's some serious business there, Anne. I thought the Anglican version was hard enough, lol. That *is* a lot of Hail Marys. So do you meditate on the mystery while saying the Hail Marys?

    I'm just not sure I'm comfortable with saying a Hail Mary. I don't mean to start an entire discussion on Mariology here, but can you give me some more info about that?

    I'm glad your husband is at least not antagonistic, for whatever that is worth.