Saturday, February 25, 2012

Lenten Arithmetic

Ash Wednesday, observed by Western Christians this past Wednesday, marks the beginning of their 40 day preparation towards Easter. As expected, the secular media covers this holy day with its usual stereotypcial and (hardly) insightful observations tainted with a sense of disgust and astonishment that anyone would actually go along with this.

Stories abound about what people are "giving up for Lent." You hear of abstaining from meat on Fridays (which is replaced by gorging on fish) or giving up a treat like chocolate or caffeinated beverages or TV or whatever. There is nothing wrong with these practices and they may well be good aids for discipline. However, why only focus on the subtraction? Why little to no mention of what people add to Lent? The almost exclusive focus on Lent has damaged the perception of Lent almost irrevocably that many Christians see it as a gloomy time, a time that's to be endured just "to get it over with" or just avoided.

So, let's reconsider our Lenten arithmetic to focus on what we can be added. So, let's do some addition and add to our sadness a sense of joy.

1) Prayer. Abstinence is fine and fasting is too, but if it is not coupled without prayer, it is dieting. Many churches, especially the Orthodox, offer many more opportunities for prayer this season.

2) Hunger. Adding this makes us realize our dependence upon God.

3) More money. The money that we don't use in our abstaining from certain foods can add up.

4) Works of charity/alms-giving. Increasing our giving, whether in money or time form, for the sake of Christ who gave up way much more than those is following Christ's commandment to do unto the least of these.

5) Confession. If we don't routinely make confession to a priest/pastor, this is the time to get back on track.

6) Scripture readings. There's a daily lectionary. In the Orthodox communions, the lectionary on the weekdays is exclusively taken from the Old(er) Testament, particularly Genesis, Isaiah and Proverbs. This is a time to return to our Biblical roots and puts into perspective why Christ did what He did.

7) Reading the fathers. There is an abundance of materials from the church fathers on the Lenten season and much of it can be read with the daily lectionary of the Scriptures.

8) Alleluia. Well, if you're a Western Rite Orthodox or Western Christian, this will be out of the question, but in the Eastern churches, Alleluia is sung even more. It replaces the hymn "God is the Lord" at Orthros. Alleluia is seen as less joyful, but joyful none the less. Incorporate this into your prayer life during the season.

9) Incense. This may not be for everybody especially for those with asthmatic conditions or who are just not used to it, but incense was used in both Jewish worship and the rites of the ancient church and is, unfortunately, derided by some as unnecessary. In Psalm 140, we chant "Let my prayer arise in Thy sight as the incense." The incense pervades and spreads over everything and rises into the heavens. Such should be model for our prayers, whether in Lent or out of Lent. It should arise and permeate everything.

10) Read more __________. It's great to read the Scriptures and the fathers, but if that's not really your thing, just read something.

11) Spend more time with family. Our life in Christ cannot be just an individual thing. It is realized in community and sacrifice towards one another.

I've given 11 things that Christians can add to Lent for this year. This is hardly a comprehensive list so if you've more suggestions, please make them. Let our arithmetic for Lent, every Lent, be more of addition than subtraction.

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