Lent catches on

The Washington Post has a weekend religious services directory that prints notices and advertisements from local churches.  I was surprised to see how many churches besides the usual liturgical denominations (Catholic, Orthodox, Anglican, Lutheran) are holding Ash Wednesday services, in a number of cases complete with the imposition of ashes.

The same issue included a wire article on how Protestants are increasingly adopting Lenten fasts:  via Lent Gets a 21st-Century Update – Religiontoday – News – Christianity.com.

It cites evangelicals who are taking on Facebook fasts and online fasts.  Methodists are asking their members to abstain from alcoholic beverages.  (I thought Methodists do that anyway!)  A number of liberal mainline Protestants are joining in an “Ecumenical Lenten Carbon” fast, in which members will mortify their flesh by lowering their carbon footprint.  The article mentions Catholics who are obliged to give up meat on Fridays and also the really rigorous Orthodox fast, which cuts out all meat and dairy every day for the entire season. (Does that include Sundays, which are feast days not counted in the 40 days?  If any of you are Orthodox, please let us know.)   In effect, this is a Vegan diet, and vegetarians in England are urging Christians to adopt the Eastern Orthodox fast this year.

Why do you think, in this age of constant indulgence, the Lenten disciplines are being taken up, to a certain extent, even by those traditions that normally haven’t practiced them?  What’s the attraction?

The oldest church in the world

Lent is a good time for contemporary Christians to contemplate their solidarity with the Church as the Body of Christ, which extends around the world and back through time.

Here are the remains of the oldest church building that has been found.  It’s called the  Dura-Europas, from a town by that name, in Syria.  It has been dated from 235 A.D.

It’s a house church,in that it’s an ordinary house to which was attached a separate long hall that was used for worship.  Remains of a baptistry were found, as well as fragments of parchment that have been identified as scraps of a Communion liturgy.  Also, around the baptistry are frescoes of scenes from the Bible.  Here is Christ healing the paralytic:

Christ healing the paralytic, from Dura-Europas Church, 235 A.D.

For more of these paintings, which must be some of the very earliest examples of Christian art, go to the Wikipedia article linked below.  I love their extreme simplicity, but also the intense piety that they express.

Think of the people who made these and who worshiped here.  In 235 A.D., the books of the Bible would have been available for about a century.  Christians were being killed for their faith and would be for another hundred years.  Based on mentions of the pre-Easter fasts in texts that date even earlier, these folks probably observed Lent.

The 10 Oldest Churches in the World | Weird Pictures, Wonderful Things.

Dura-Europas church

Let’s pray the litany for Lent

LCMS president Matthew Harrison challenges everyone to join him in a Lenten project that is not giving something up, that is doing something very positive for others, and that will benefit your spiritual life:  Praying the Litany every day.

The Litany is an ancient structure for prayer that builds on Biblical texts and that covers EVERYTHING we are to pray for, in vivid and piercing language.   Yes, Catholics have a version, but it goes back before the rise of what we would recognize as Roman Catholicism, all the way to the early church of the 6th century.  The Reformation made good use of it.  (We Lutherans and hangers on at Patrick Henry College had been getting together to pray the Litany every week, though this semester we’ve been doing Vespers.)  Here are President Harrison’s comments on why the Litany is so helpful:

Left to ourselves, bereft of texts as the foundation of our prayers, we are often left praying “Dear God, give me a mini-bike,” as I was wont to pray as a 12 year old – and am prone to pray even today!!!!!! Texts of the scriptures Lords Prayer, Ten Commandments and scriptural texts Creed, Litany! lay down Gods thoughts as the foundation of prayer, the tarmac if you will, from which our meditations may gently or quickly rise, aided by the Holy Spirit. The fulsome petitions of the Litany take us out of ourselves, to pray for the church, pastors and teachers, our enemies, women with children, the poor, the imprisoned and much much more. And all for mercy, growing out of the great petitions of the blind, the lame and the ill who comes to Jesus in the New Testament, “Lord have mercy!” “Kyrie eleison!” The Lord loves to have mercy. The Lord came to have mercy. The Lord continues to have mercy.

You’ll find the litany in any standard Lutheran hymnal worth its salt. Pray it daily with me for Lent won’t you?

via Mercy Journeys with Pastor Harrison: Lets Pray the Litany Daily: Kyrie Eleison!.

Here it is.  (Other versions going around have what must be an accidental omission, the grounding of the prayer in Christ — “by the mystery of your holy incarnation. . . .by your agony and bloody sweat.”  The version in the Lutheran Service Book is even better to use because it adds the Lord’s Prayer and closes with a collect, which can be a time for individual petitions.  Also, the format is really good and easy to use,whether with a group, your family, or individually.)

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Christ,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Christ,
C: Hear us.

P: God the Father, in heaven,
C: have mercy.

P: God the Son, Redeemer of the world,
C: Have mercy.

P: God the Holy Spirit.
C: Have mercy.

P: Be gracious to us.
C: Spare us, good Lord.

P: Be gracious to us.
C: Help us, good Lord.

P: From all sin, from all error, from all evil; from the crafts and assaults of the devil; from sudden and evil death; from pestilence and famine; from war and bloodshed; from sedition and from rebellion; from lightning and tempest; from all calamity by fire and water; and from everlasting death;
C: Good Lord, deliver us.

P: By the mystery of Your holy incarnation; by Your holy nativity; by Your baptism, fasting, and temptation; by Your agony and bloody sweat; by Your cross and Passion; by Your precious death and burial; by Your glorious resurrection and ascension; and by the coming of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter;
C: Help us, good Lord.

P: In all time of our tribulation, in all time of our prosperity, in the hour of death, and in the day of judgment,
C: Help us, good Lord.

P: We poor sinners implore You
C: To hear us, O Lord.

P: To rule and govern Your holy Christian Church, to preserve all pastors and ministers of Your Church in the true knowledge and understanding of Your wholesome Word and to sustain them in holy living, to put an end to all schisms and causes of offense, to bring into the way of truth all who have erred and are deceived, to bless the Church’s life-giving message that Jesus is Lord, to bring comfort to the sorrowing and hope to those living in fear, to beat down Satan under our feet, to send faithful laborers into Your harvest, and to accompany Your Word with Your grace and Spirit,
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: To raise those that fall and to strengthen those that stand, and to comfort and help the weakhearted and the distressed,
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: To give to all peoples concord and peace, to preserve our land from discord and strife, to give our country Your protection in every time of need, to direct and defend our president and all in authority, to bless and protect our magistrates and all our people, to keep in safety the members of our armed forces and to give wisdom to those in command,
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: To forgive our enemies, persecutors, and slanderers and to turn their hearts; to give and preserve to our use the kindly fruits of the earth; and graciously to hear our prayers;
C: We implore You to hear us, good Lord.

P: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,
C: We implore You to hear us.

P: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: Have mercy.

P: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: Have mercy.

P: Christ, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world,
C: Grant us Your peace.

P: O Christ,
C: Hear us.

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Christ,
C: Have mercy.

P: O Lord,
C: Have mercy. Amen

Praying the Litany would be a good activity for our blog community.  Do it every day, but if you forget or miss a day, don’t worry.  We aren’t being legalistic about this.  Just start again when you can.  The point is, it will benefit us all and those we pray for.  Knowing that we are joining in prayer with other people, who perhaps we know only as commenters on this blog, will be especially meaningful.  So I’m going to do this.  Who’s with me?

Facebook and divorce

Back to the bad effects of the internet:

Facebook is cited in 1 out of every 5 divorces in the United States, according to the Loyola University Health System. Furthermore, 81 percent of the country’s top divorce attorneys say they have seen an increase in the number of cases using social networking evidence during the past five years, according to a recent survey by the American Academy of Matrimonial Lawyers (AAML). Last but not least, Facebook is the unrivaled leader for online divorce evidence with 66 percent citing it as the primary source, the AAML said.

It’s not that Facebook is solely to blame: already-strained marriages are bound to break with or without the service. Still, a couple doesn’t have to be experiencing marital difficulties for an online relationship to develop from mere online chatting into a full-fledged affair.

via Facebook blamed for 1 in 5 divorces in the US | ZDNet.

HT: Joe Carter

New Islamist regimes are OK with Obama

Not “Islamic,” but “Islamist,” meaning radical and jihadist.  Does this approach to foreign policy strike you as feckless and naive?  (And do you know what “feckless” means?)

The Obama administration is preparing for the prospect that Islamist governments will take hold in North Africa and the Middle East, acknowledging that the popular revolutions there will bring a more religious cast to the region’s politics.

The administration is already taking steps to distinguish between various movements in the region that promote Islamic law in government. An internal assessment, ordered by the White House last month, identified large ideological differences between such movements as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and al-Qaeda that will guide the U.S. approach to the region.

“We shouldn’t be afraid of Islam in the politics of these countries,” said a senior administration official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe internal policy deliberations. “It’s the behavior of political parties and governments that we will judge them on, not their relationship with Islam.”

Islamist governments span a range of ideologies and ambitions, from the primitive brutality of the Taliban in Afghanistan to Turkey’s Justice and Development Party, a movement with Islamist roots that heads a largely secular political system.

None of the revolutions over the past several weeks has been overtly Islamist, but there are signs that the uprisings could give way to more religious forces. An influential Yemeni cleric called this week for the U.S.-backed administration of President Ali Abdullah Saleh to be replaced with Islamist rule, and in Egypt, an Islamist theoretician has a leading role in drafting constitutional changes after President Hosni Mubarak’s fall from power last month.

via Obama administration prepares for possibility of new post-revolt Islamist regimes.

Memory as a human superpower

Plato worried that reading would diminish the memory, and he was right.  Now in our information age, our memories have shriveled even more.  A third of British citizens under 30 don’t know their home phone numbers.  Two-thirds of American teenagers don’t know when the Civil War took place.  One-fifth don’t know who we fought against in World War II.  And yet, the normal human mind, when trained right, is capable of great feats of memory.

Joshua Foer has written a book about memory, Moonwalking with Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything, in the course of which he studied memory-improving techniques to the point that he became the 2006 Memory Champion–yes, there is such a competition–by memorizing a sequence of 52 cards in one minute, 40 seconds.

From a review of the book in the Washington Post by Marie Arana:

Devalued though human memory has become, it is what makes us who we are. Our memories, Foer tells us, are the seat of civilization, the bedrock of wisdom, the wellspring of creativity. His passionate and deeply engrossing book, “Moonwalking With Einstein,” means to persuade us that we shouldn’t surrender them to integrated circuits so easily. It is a resounding tribute to the muscularity of the mind.

In the course of “Moonwalking,” we learn that our brains are no larger nor more sophisticated than our ancestors’ were 30,000 years ago. If a Stone Age baby were adopted by 21st-century parents, “the child would likely grow up indistinguishable from his or her peers.” The blank slate of memory hasn’t changed one bit, except that we’ve lost the incentive to use it to store large amounts of information. As one of Foer’s fellow mental athletes puts it, in the course of ordinary modern life, “we actually do anti-Olympic training . . . the equivalent of sitting someone down to train for the Olympics and making sure he drinks ten cans of beer a day, smokes fifty cigarettes . . . and spends the rest of the time watching television.”

Foer introduces us to memory prodigies such as the young journalist S, who irked his employer because he took no notes but could memorize 70 digits at a time, reciting them forward and backward after one hearing. He could replicate complex formulas, although he didn’t know math; was able to repeat Italian poetry, though he spoke no Italian; and, most remarkable of all, his memories never seemed to degrade.

There are, too, master chess players who can remember every move of a match weeks or even years after the event. They become so skilled at recalling positions that they can take on several opponents at once, moving the pieces in their heads, with no physical board before them. There are London cabbies with such intricate maps committed to memory that their brains have enlarged right posterior hippocampuses. There is the child relegated to “the dunces’ class” because he cannot perform school tasks well, although he can identify distant birds by how they fly, having memorized dozens of flight patterns.

Foer sets out to meet the legendary “Brainman,” who learned Spanish in a single weekend, could instantly tell if any number up to 10,000 was prime, and saw digits in colors and shapes, enabling him to hold long lists of them in memory. The author also tracks down “Rain Man” Kim Peek, the famous savant whose astonishing ability to recite all of Shakespeare’s works, reproduce scores from a vast canon of classical music and retain the contents of 9,000 books was immortalized in the Hollywood movie starring Dustin Hoffman.

When Foer is told that the Rain Man had an IQ of merely 87 – that he was actually missing a part of his brain; that memory champions have no more intelligence than you or I; that building a memory is a matter of dedication and training – he decides to try for the U.S. memory championship himself. Here is where the book veers sharply from science journalism to a memoir of a singular adventure.

via Joshua Foer’s ‘Moonwalking With Einstein,’ on the nature of memory.

You can buy the book here,