Fasting for 40 days before Easter

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.  There are those who claim that these too have pagan origins, which is particularly ludicrous.  In his ongoing dismantling of the claims that Christian holidays have pagan origins,  Pastor Joseph Abrahamson tells about the true origin of Lent, the 40 day fast (not counting the six Sundays, which are feast days) before Easter.  See the details after the jump.

Lent always does me good.  Resolutions with a limited time frame are easier to keep.  The small acts of self-denial and self-discipline are good from me, as are eating less (and healthier) and my custom of reading some heavy-duty theology.  (This year:  Martin Chemnitz on the Two Natures of Christ.)  And observing Lent really does set up a joyous Easter.

I’ve noticed that even many Christians who do not follow the church year all that much are starting to observe Lent.

What about you?  What do you do for Lent, if anything?  What does it do for you?

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At the still point of the turning world

From Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

via Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot.

(“The still point of the turning world” is from Eliot’s “Burnt Norton,” the Four Quartets.)

What is Eliot saying about the Word?  about the Word in an age of unbelief?  What does this have to do with Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent?

Lent begins

To contemplate Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, those sobering words accompanying the imposition of ashes are a good place to start.  (More personally, “you are dust, and to dust you shall return”!)

This is called a memento mori, a reminder that you are going to die.  How can it be helpful to meditate on that unpleasant fact?  How can that change your perspective on things?   What does that have to do with Lent?

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?

Repent

You are dust. And to dust you shall return.

Ash Wednesday

Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing you have made and forgive the sins of all who are penitent: Create and make in us new and contrite hearts, that we, worthily lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain of you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Ash Wednesday by T. S. Eliot

T. S. Eliot was one of the most important founders of the modernist movement in literature, a cutting-edge poet of the first order.  And yet he was converted to Christianity.  He also began calling himself a conservative and a classicist.  But he still wrote cutting-edge poems of the first order.  Among them is “Ash Wednesday,” which he wrote not too long after his baptism.  Here he writes about the Word of God, Christ as the still point of the whirling world, of the Church which he had newly joined (he was an Anglican) and which he personifies as the veiled sister.  An excerpt:

If the lost word is lost, if the spent word is spent
If the unheard, unspoken
Word is unspoken, unheard;
Still is the unspoken word, the Word unheard,
The Word without a word, the Word within
The world and for the world;
And the light shone in darkness and
Against the Word the unstilled world still whirled
About the centre of the silent Word.

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Where shall the word be found, where will the word
Resound? Not here, there is not enough silence
Not on the sea or on the islands, not
On the mainland, in the desert or the rain land,
For those who walk in darkness
Both in the day time and in the night time
The right time and the right place are not here
No place of grace for those who avoid the face
No time to rejoice for those who walk among noise and deny the voice

Will the veiled sister pray for
Those who walk in darkness, who chose thee and oppose thee,
Those who are torn on the horn between season and season, time and time, between
Hour and hour, word and word, power and power, those who wait
In darkness? Will the veiled sister pray
For children at the gate
Who will not go away and cannot pray:
Pray for those who chose and oppose

O my people, what have I done unto thee.

Will the veiled sister between the slender
Yew trees pray for those who offend her
And are terrified and cannot surrender
And affirm before the world and deny between the rocks
In the last desert before the last blue rocks
The desert in the garden the garden in the desert
Of drouth, spitting from the mouth the withered apple-seed.

O my people.

. . . . . . . . .

Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden,
Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood
Teach us to care and not to care
Teach us to sit still
Even among these rocks,
Our peace in His will
And even among these rocks
Sister, mother
And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea,
Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.

via Ash Wednesday: Ash Wednesday by TS Eliot.


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