There is a great difference in excellency, usefulness, and comfort between people of clear, digested knowledge, and confused, undigested apprehensions. -Richard Baxter

prepare to prepare

March 1st is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent: the 40 days prior to the celebration of Resurrection Day. For most of the history of the Church it has been a time of preparation during which pilgrims refrain from certain pleasures to turn their attentions instead to the sufferings, privations, and purposes of Christ.

You don’t hear much about the observance of Lent within Reformed circles, partially for historical reasons. The Reformers, their name derived of course from their desire to re-form the Catholic Church, became particularly averse to anything that may have smacked of empty piety. So many things that invoked ritual or forbearance, as Lent did, came to be marginalized (to some extent unconsciously) within Reformed piety.

But despite the potential for using ritual as a buffer against real repentance–that is, reducing the work of sancitification to scattered acts of unconsidered sacrifice–who would deny the benefit of withholding from some things, even good things, for a season to focus on what is of more lasting and satisfying value?

I think we might do that within our 20+ Community in this season, so often overlooked. I’m waiting for my copy to arrive in the mail of The Great Lent, by a Russian Orthodox theologian named Alexander Schmemann. (Nod to Disciplemaking Coordinator, Brandon Eggar, for the recommendation)

Schmemann means to chart a course for a believer in his or her journey through Lent, to reawaken (or awaken for the first time) a new appreciation for our Savior–appreciation that translates into concrete action.

If you should yourself obtain a copy, to be clear, there are some theological differences between Orthodoxy and Reformed Doctrine–notably in the views of what happened in the Fall and what the nature of the Atonement was. And while those issues are not peripheral, the Orthodox observance of Lent is not unlike what Dallas Willard instructs in his books on spiritual disciplines: putting our bodies to use in the service of our souls through the denial of certain things for a season is as orthodox (little “o”) as can be. We might go this direction not to lay undue burdens upon us, or to suggest that through our personal privation God is somehow obliged to bless. Rather, whatever we can do to wrestle against the flesh, the world, and the devil by the intentional refocusing of our attentions upon our Lord and His claims upon us can only glorify Him and fortify us in the process.

Details to follow. In the meantime, if you can find other background information on Lent you think helpful to our consideration and preparation for it, pass along the links!

1 Comment»

  stephen wrote @

Strange as it may sound, Merold Westphal reads writings by Freud, Marx, and Nietzsche during Lent. It’s been a while since I read it, but he does write on this in Suspicion & Faith.

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