I’ve never been much of a high church guy. By High Church, I refer to Christian traditions which rely heavily on form, procedure, and religious rote for their corporate gathering and private lives of worship. We see this most clearly in the Catholic and Orthodox faiths and some protestant traditions such as the Episcopalians. There is indeed an air of religious feel to the form, but in my arrogance, I have always assumed a void of life. The writing out of prayers and reading them to God felt like a suitor giving a formal and legal document to his sweetheart as a marriage proposal. No personal words or heart on fire. Just data. “Here is my proposition in detail; please sign on the bottom line if you agree to these terms.”
No, such a traditional experience was not for me, and I didn’t give the subject much thought. And then. Then? Then my wife, who is working through a hospital chaplain residency, told me that she was planning to observe the tradition of Lent with others at her hospital. This kicks off today with what is known as Ash Wednesday.
In short, Lent is from a Latin word meaning the 40 days before Easter when Christians observe special fasts and other rites. The significance of the 40 originates from the 40 days that Jesus prayed and fasted in the wilderness before launching into his public ministry. A solemn spirit of repentance also flows with directed fasting and prayer currents. The Ash traditionally is from the burning of palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. Those most engaged celebrate by placing the form of a small cross, from the ash, on their forehead as a sign of their devotion and commitment to the process.
While I do not see myself ever diving fully into the deep end of this and similar traditions, it forces me to be quiet momentarily. In thinking practices, I am already engaged in some spiritual disciplines. For example, I am systematically reading my Bible and allocating time for prayer before I launch into anything else in my day. But in thinking about the principle of discipline in general, could more not hurt? The discipline of the musician and athlete distinguishes those who are serious from those just out for fun. The goal is for these rhythms to become second nature. While we want our inner lives to be passionate and constantly abiding with Christ, could more regular discipline help in this manner?
The reality is that while some have wrongly put their hope in the form instead of the Savior, to throw out all disciplines is a knee-jerk reaction on the other end of the pendulum swing. The improper use of something does not negate the proper use of it. I do not know the hearts and minds of others and their motives anyway. In truth, Jesus himself learned the Psalms of David and the words of the Pentateuch by rote as a child. So, there might be something here to take another look at.
Yes, my amazing Bride got me. Neither of us plans to convert to the High Church traditions. But what are we missing by snubbing something which does not fit into our paradigm, even if others may have abused the practice? Maybe there might also be some providence here when I consider that my heart has been circling the same half dozen verses over the past few weeks. Could this be a call of the Holy Spirit to slow down more and meditate on these texts at regular intervals of the day? Is formally setting aside specific times during the day a bad idea or something positive? Yes, probably the latter. So here we go. Lent of 2023 will no longer be a mere and mild passing joke about the lint found in the dryer but rather another pivotal moment drawing me closer to my Savior, which is where I want to be no matter how I get there.
What about you? Regarding Lent or any other practice that enlivens your walk with Jesus?