I adopted the practice of observing Lent as an adult. I had some unlearning to do before I could though. It was not easy. But I managed to question my way into doing it. I learned, as a child, I was supposed to pray. Prayer was done at meals (occasionally) and at bedtime. As a got older the message was that there was more to praying than having a set time to prayer. You could theoretically pray at any time. Men in my home church prayed long (too long it seemed to me) prayers. I could never keep my eyes closed so long. The political types moaned about not having prayer in schools. But we prayed before ballgames at school. We did not learn “the Lord’s prayer.” We were told it was merely a pattern. My church did not practice “the sinner’s prayer” for salvation either.
Unlearning My Tradition
I grew up within a church tradition that had its beginning in the United States. Set times of day for prayer was not part of it. We had no morning prayer or evening prayer in the liturgical sense. The calendar we followed was Sunday to Sunday. Easter and Christmas were holidays that we generally ignored. “If the birth of Jesus is important, then why doesn’t Mark or John tell about it?” It was a question my Sunday School teacher asked. Looking at it reminds me of the liberal Christian saying, “I believe everything Mark said about the virgin birth.”
Preparation times before major festivals didn’t exist either. There was always a conundrum because Jesus says in the Sermon on the Mount, “When you fast” nor “if you fast.” Just when were we supposed to fast? Any time we wanted to because we should. How about during Lent? No, that was a catholic observance.
Basically, I had to unlearn my tradition of anti-traditionalism. The assumption that said everything people in other churches were doing was wrong had to go. I know it sounds bizarre if you never lived it. But as Nadia Bolz-Weber says, “The church of Christ is like Hotel California. You can check out any time you like; but you can never leave.” I have picked up a love of Scripture and another important lesson.
Lent In Review
Every Holy Week, I realize I had the wrong goals for Lent. I fast and pray or add something to my spiritual practice. On the one hand, I am supposed to learn not to be dependent on some things. I also try to learn something new or something else more in depth. But what I end up doing most is unlearning all of the stuff I picked up during the previous year. Let me explain this some more. I want to understand it better myself.
I unlearn my priorities. What I think is important gets a makeover. I tend to change my patterns of thinking more. It may have a lot to do with Winter ending and Spring beginning. I am a rational person who dwells a little while on the irrational, the fantastic, and the idea that there is magic in life.
I dispel the idea of goal setting and achieving. Often, I manage to truly live one day at a time while remembering Sunday is on the way. In my role as pastor, I am not working on charge conference, year-end reports, budget setting, or concerned about whatever the new conference initiatives are. I unlearn the business end of church.
The Surprise Unlearning
The most surprising unlearning is that I was not distant from God before Lent. I only felt that way. The business end of church, the winter blahs, and being overly rational are ending. All of the junk on which I focused on the year after last Easter made me think and feel distant from the Divine. The unlearning I learn is we never get away from the big important thoughts. Transcendence and Life are there. Ignoring them is sin. We are open to Love by participating in them.
Ultimately Lent brings us to the bewildering peace of Easter. Bewildering because we forget it is normal.