How to Lent-Spiritual Practice for the Rest of Us

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Posing by New Orleans trolley, 2012

The city of New Orleans has a singular reputation for laissez les bon temps rouler (“let the good times roll”) no matter what time of year. During Mardi Gras, though, the celebrations take on an over-the-top frenzy that is hard to match.

We lived in New Orleans in the 1970’s and saw this dress-up carnival cum Halloween celebration firsthand. Mardi Gras (literally ‘fat Tuesday’ in French) offers the citizens and umpty zillion of their best friends to dress up, dance and drink, throw candy and don beads. There are parades uptown, downtown, in the suburbs, everywhere.

I still have some beads from one of those parades. I also have snapshots of folks in the crowds during one particularly bawdy celebration. In New Orleans many of the folks live for Mardi Gras, its year round preparation and presence synonymous with their fair, old city. In theory, Mardi Gras is a day to indulge one’s senses, for the next day—Ash Wednesday (February 26th)—is to be marked by ashes and repentance.

Ash Wednesday begins the season of Lent, the forty days of prayer and fasting observed by many faith traditions, and derives its name from the placing of repentance ashes on the foreheads of participants. Priests or pastors recite either, “Repent, and believe in the Gospel” or, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

Lenten practices are intended to prepare our hearts to acknowledge the passion and death of Christ on the way to the celebration of Easter. But like the candy and costumes on Mardi Gras, the overwhelm of the world has overshadowed the meaning of Lent.

Why I Didn’t Give up Anything for Lent

My mother in law is 93 years old and lives downstairs in our finished basement apartment.  She’s still got a pretty agile mind (when she remembers her hearing aids and actually listens to what is being said) but her body has pretty much given out.


We help her with meals during the week, bringing down extra casseroles and soups, salads and an occasional dessert.  She doesn’t mind being reminded to eat (that being a precursor to staying alive and all) but she is so over it when it comes to being bothered with meal preparation.

“I’ve cooked so many dinners in my lifetime, I’m just tired of even thinking about it.”

That’s the thing about our daily lives–as someone said, they’re so daily.  If you are breathing again each morning you wake up, Jesus has made it clear He still has a purpose for your being here.  
“But really, you wonder, do I have to cook dinner again????”

I can’t decide to only eat (or not eat) certain days of the year; I can’t give up something for just 40 days of Lent–a vice of some kind, a bad habit, a fleshly indulgence–I need to decide to give things up for LIFE

I was not raised in a Christian home and when I found Jesus (or He found me) I began worshipping in a very evangelical Protestant denomination. We’ve never followed the Church calendar when it comes to liturgies, we don’t ‘do’ Advent or any of the organized observances like Lent. (Frankly, it’s much to our loss, as those rituals can often bring a deeper meaning to our faith.)

However, I still wanted to read something this year about the season of Lent, words that fit my mindset and the way I worship. Kris Camealy’s book “Holey, Wholly, Holy” seemed to fill the bill. The book’s subtitle is, “A Lenten journey of Refinement.”
From ‘Why Lent?’ page 8:
“This is the hard refinement, the journey from holey (broken in sin) 
to wholly (surrendered) to holy.
Kris’ words resonated,
“It occurred to me that perhaps what God calls us to give up, really, is ourselves.  
The paltry offerings we prefer to give up, 
(less TV, no chocolate, shopping for clothes), 
while they feel challenging, are perhaps less pleasing 
because we fail to give up the one thing that stands between us and Christ. 
Ourselves.”
‘Why Lent’, p. 8, italics mine.

Yes, giving up myself and my wants and my fleshly desires and my sin (for that’s what it is) will be a lifelong journey. My daily life provides me ample opportunity to do the same thing over and over again, to repent anew each day, to be reminded of how much I need the Cross and God’s salvation–not just preceding the Easter Season, but every day of my life.

While I’ve been reading HWH, I’ve also been memorizing Isaiah 55 with the online group at Do Not Depart (see my sidebar….the gurgling fountain picture 🙂
The word ‘behold’ begins many of the verses in that chapter, and I’ve been meditating on ‘beholding’ Jesus and ‘being held’ by Him.  

:When we turn to Him, he holds us.  When we behold His face, we are changed.:  

A quote from Alan Redpath opens the Introduction to HWH:
“Give up the struggle and the fight; relax in the omnipotence of the Lord Jesus; 
look up into His lovely face and as you behold Him, 
He will transform you into His likeness.  
You do the beholding–He does the transforming. 
There is no shortcut to holiness.”

If there are no shortcuts, clearly this WILL be a lifelong process.

I will have to find new manna every day.  
I will have to come back to God’s table to be fed. 
I will have to come back to the feet of Jesus and lay my sins and 
shortcomings at the cross.
In the week before Easter, this seems a fitting focus for my life.

Kris writes in the last chapter,
“The journey through Lent is a journey that doesn’t end at the cross.  No!  
This journey ends at the empty tomb when we realize that He’s beaten back death.  This journey ends in the victory of grace for sinners and redemption for those who believe.”

Oh, I say Hallelujah, for that.

As we move into the Holy Week preceding the Resurrection,
I pray that you and I will have a heart of thankfulness that rests in the daily assurance
of God’s grace 
that gives to us again and again and again,
the grace that causes us to say, “I give up!” for Life.
~~~~~~
Linking with my sisters Jen
               Finding Heaven
Jennifer, Emily and Lyli