Preparing for the Lenten Journey

Today’s Fastnacht Day in PA Dutch Country (referred to by other traditions/regions, some with much more enthusiastic traditions, as Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday) and the celebration of it emphasizes stuffing our bodies with wants before entering the sacrificial lock down of the religious practice of Lent.

By contrast I look at Lent from the radical, relational lens of seeking God the Father — one shared by the people of God throughout the Biblical story — finding its fulfillment in Jesus the Christ through His inauguration of the Kingdom of God, death, resurrection, ascension to Lordship, the gifting of the daily redemptive Presence of God through the Holy Spirit (which dwells within the Body of Christ by the grace of God the Father and the Son). … and the New Heavens and the New Earth.  To God be the glory!  Forgive me, I’ve gotten a little carried away.  Lent ends in Holy Week where we focus upon the final days of Jesus the Christ’s earthly ministry and his death/resurrection.

Christine Sine in What Is Lent Anyway? defines Lent as

a time for “confrontation with the false self” (Thomas Keating) when we reflect on the responses and behaviours we exhibit that are least Christ like and seek God’s help in rededicating ourselves to God and God’s purposes.This is a time for self-denial and fasting when we give up some of the comforts of our lives in order to make ourselves more available to God.

If you practice Lent, please take a few minutes to share some reflections regarding the Lenten journey, how the lessons learned (and life lived) apply to campus life/vocation, and recommended resources (on-line and/or in print) for the blog’s readership. 

Interested in a glimpse from our family?  We have committed to Christine Sine‘s 2009 Lenten Guide: A Journey Into Wholeness.  Last night we considered What Is Lent Anyway? followed by watching and discussing the Reflection for Lent youtube video. Our nine year old twins particularly have interest in the Mutunga Challenge, i.e., each person in the family eating for under $2.00 a day for 1 week of Lent (and then carrying over this challenge into the rest life giving the difference of money spent to support the poor in Africa, the Caribbean and Guyana).  Any campus fellowship’s ready for the Mutunga Challenge?  Note:  recipes can be found in the 2009 Lenten Guide: A Journey Into Wholeness.

When tucking the twins into bed, we explored Psalm 51 and purpose of the Ash Wednesday Cross based upon The Lenten Tree: Devotions for Children & Adults To Prepare for CHRIST’s DEATH and HIS RESURRECTION by Dean Lambert Smith.  One of my daughters noticed that the other book I had with me, i.e., Bread and Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter, had a similar cover to Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas — quite observant.  I commend all of these resources.  More coming over the course of the next 40+ days.   Note:  If you have interest in joining me on a Lenten Journey, possibly for the first time, let me know.

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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    Sue Valentine commented on February 24, 2009 Reply

    Not being in a liturgical church, Lent often seems to sneak up on me. But Mardi Gras is so highly publicized, I always know Lent is just one day away. I find it ironic that Mardi Gras is about gorging, when anyone who has fasted seriously knows it’s important to gradually rid the body of sugar, caffeine and meat. That means entering into Lent well takes preparation, and Mardi Gras is a day to finalize a commitment to the Lord that has been under consideration for awhile.

    Entering Lent gradually relinguishing control and comfort seems more like how we actually learn to live our lives in God than does going “cold turkey” and gutting it through 40 days of agony.

    Christina O'Hara commented on February 24, 2009 Reply

    A Meditation for Ash Wednesday

    Anne Lamott tells the story of a man getting drunk at a bar in Alaska, telling the bartender how he had recently lost his faith after his twin-engine plane crashed in the tundra.
    “Yeah,” he said bitterly. “I lay there in the wreckage, hour after hour, nearly frozen to death, crying out for God to save me, praying for help with every ounce of my being, but he didn’t raise a finger to help. So I’m done with that whole charade.”
    “But,” said the bartender, “you’re here. You were saved.”
    “Yeah, that’s right,” says the man bitterly. “Because finally some [bleep] Eskimo came along…”
    What is Ash Wednesday all about? What is the point of the liturgy, the fasting, the ashes? Isn’t it depressing to remember that we are dust and to dust we shall return? Shouldn’t we focus on God’s forgiveness and not dwell on our sin? I mean, I’m basically a good person, right? I go to church, I give my offering, I try to help other people. I’m not that much of a sinner. For some of us, our sin seems so huge, we wonder, how could God even possibly forgive me?
    But the ashes of Ash Wednesday remind us that we are mortal, that we are all terminal, and that God knows that we are. We are fragile broken vessels. We will all die and our bodies will return to the ground. In the creation story in Genesis 2, God created humanity out of the ground of the earth, and we did not have life within us until he breathed his own life into us. Also in Genesis, humanity rebelled against God’s perfect plan of a life lived with him, deciding we wanted to run our own lives, be our own boss, and pick and choose the rules we want to follow. As a result of our self-centered disobedience, death came into the world, and the ground became cursed, something we had to battle to bring forth a harvest. Human relationships became broken, as we turned to blaming others rather than accepting our own responsibility, and either stepping on others in our self-centered pride, or letting ourselves be doormats and be stepped upon.
    Ash Wednesday lets us look into our own hearts, take responsibility for our own sin, confess it to God, and then be free of it. We don’t work our way out of the hole that sin has gotten us into, we ask for God’s help and he lifts us out. That is what salvation means in the Bible. We couldn’t save ourselves and make ourselves good by an act of the will. We need God’s love to save us, to heal us, to make us whole. In the 2 Corinthians passage we heard today, we are reminded that for our sake, God made Jesus, who knew no sin, to be sin, to carry our sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. Jesus carried our sin to the cross so that we didn’t have to carry it anymore. Now when God looks at us, he doesn’t see our sin, which has been removed from us “as far as the east is from the west.” Instead, he sees the righteousness of God. We didn’t deserve it, but he did it. All it took was our asking him for forgiveness and letting him forgive us.
    So, why the fasting? Isn’t just repenting and saying we’re sorry to God enough? Fasting is when we deny ourselves something that we think we need, like food, or stuff, or people, or talking, or TV, or computers, so that we can focus on what we really need – our relationship with God. Like Jesus who fasted for 40 days so he could pray and be fed by God’s Word, we need to regroup and realize our need for spiritual food. The 40 days of Lent allow us to deny ourselves and to take on spiritual disciplines that allow us to see ourselves and God more clearly.
    The Israelites in Isaiah (58:1-12) get in trouble because they had been fasting, and outwardly looking spiritual, but they have been neglecting the needs of the poor and the downtrodden among them, they have been violent, they have not cared for the true needs of their own family. As a result, God says he cannot hear their prayers, or honor their fast. God wants them to start a new fast:
    Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?
    Where is God calling you to fast right now? Is he calling you to give up something so that you can focus on him? When I ask that question, is there an image that leaps to mind? Is he calling you to do less of one thing and more of another? Is there a way that he is calling you to feed the poor? to bring comfort to those who are hurting? To bring justice to those who need it? Is he calling you to a spiritual discipline, like prayer, or Bible reading, or fasting, or being thankful, or really taking a day of rest for a Sabbath, or getting some exercise and taking care of your body? Where is he calling you to invest? Where is your treasure? Take a moment of silence to consider what God is calling you to do, or not to do…
    So why the silly story to start about the man and the Eskimo? God has given us gifts and perhaps we have not seen them as such. Perhaps God has given us physical or emotional or spiritual pain. Perhaps life has taken a person or a job or a dream from us. Perhaps we are watching someone else suffer and there is nothing we can do to help. Perhaps life is too much to bear right now and we ask where is God in all this? Has he abandoned me? Does God really only give us what we can handle, or does he seem to give us more than we can handle, so that we can rely on him to save us?
    Often in our Christian faith, we try to do it on our own, gritting our teeth and plodding on. We might start to see our pain as a cross we need to carry alone. Our pain might even become so much a part of us that we don’t want to let it go. I once had the sense that God wanted to heal me of my allergies, but I rejected his offer because I’d started to see them as a part of me, as part of my identity. But God wants us to find our identity completely in him as his beloved child. And God has given us a community, a family, where we can receive care and support, and healing. We are not meant to walk alone, carrying our cross. We are meant to share the burden with others, to swallow our pride and ask for help.
    Like blind Bartimaeus, whom we just read about in our small groups studying the gospel of Mark, Jesus asks us, “What do you want me to do for you?” Be honest with God… he can take it. “What do you want me to do for you?”
    And when you think God has abandoned you, look for the Eskimo.

  • Tom Grosh commented on February 24, 2009 Reply

    Thank-you to Sue, Christine, and Christina for their Lenten Journey encouragements. Looking forward to what others have to share.

    Over dinner our family returned to “What Is Lent Anyway?” Both of the twins had a question. One wondered why we didn’t have doughnuts. The other asked how we’re going to address their periodic school lunches when we participate in the Mutunga Challenge.

    Regarding the first, I shared Sue’s comments regarding gradual ‘Lenten preparations.’ As to the second, my wife assured them that she’ll figure out the budget 😉

    More on Ash Wednesday.

    Tina Lockett commented on March 5, 2009 Reply

    Here are a few tried and true ideas.

    Lenten Discipline Ideas

    Prepare for and make a confession
    If you do not already practice tithing, give away 10% of your income through Easter
    Follow the daily lectionary readings or another plan for reading the Bible
    Say Morning Prayer, Evening Prayer, or Compline using the BCP or
    Say grace at meals
    If you take public transit, dedicate your travel time to prayer
    Fast from television, email, movies, instant messaging, computer games, leisure shopping, or other activities that steal time and dissipate attention.
    Practice gratitude by listing things you are thankful for every night
    Set aside a box in which you put one dollar for every dollar you spend on food during Lent; after Easter, give it to a hunger ministry
    Give up a favorite food/drink…fast a meal a day….fast one day a week
    Volunteer your time in an outreach-oriented organization every week
    Resolve to find someone you can serve or bless anonymously every day
    Use the Operation World book or to pray for mission
    Practice a daily examination before bed: when did you experience Christ today, and when did you feel far from him?
    Make a list of people you have failed to invest time in and use Lent to renew your relationships with them.
    Before you do anything else on your computer each day, spend 10 minutes at Sacred Spaces
    Work on living out a precept from Scripture such as “loving your enemies” or “whenever you face trails of any kind, consider it nothing but joy”
    Learn a new method of prayer: lectio divina, centering prayer, the Rosary, the Jesus prayer…

    Tina Lockett commented on March 5, 2009 Reply

    One church I attended had a Hills of Lent series to examine the significance of five Mountains mentioned in scripture.

    + At Mount Moriah faith is tested and strengthened with the assurance that “The Lord will provide Himself a lamb.”

    + At Mount Sinai God our Savior continues to direct us on our journey to the Promised Land.

    + At Mount Zion God is offered the worship and praise He so richly deserves.

    + At Mount Olivet God’s children are assured that His good will for us is surely being done.

    + At Mount Calvary – toward which all these other mountains point – we view “God’s own sacrifice complete.”

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