Sunday, February 26, 2012

Three different approaches to Lent

There are at least three different ways to approach Lent. More, really, if one considers different degrees of each, but this will do for starters.

First there's what one might call the Rambo Protestant approach. "There is no such thing as Lent. Lent is a papish addition, a teaching of man, and no one should ever so much as think about it or have anything to do with it."

Then there's what we might call the strongly traditional Catholic/Eastern Orthodox approach: "Lent exists for the purpose of mortifying our fleshly nature and participating in Jesus' suffering. We Christians should all fast, preferably sticking to a vegan diet or at least abstaining from meat, except on Sundays if you want to be a wimp. Married couples should abstain from intercourse and from all sexual thoughts about each other (or anyone else, obviously, but that goes without saying). You should give something else up too, not something you need to give up anyway, but something totally innocent that you enjoy, just to toughen up spiritually. You should try to suffer in some way so as to share in Jesus' sufferings. Remember: Lent isn't about self-improvement. Lenten disciplines aren't like New Year's resolutions. It's all much more serious and stern than that. You will be improved by observing Lenten discipline, but that isn't why you should do it."

Then there's the modernized Catholic or doing-Lent-because-it's-kind-of-cool-and-useful Protestant approach: "Lent is an opportunity for self-improvement. You have liberty in Christ as to how you use it, but it's a good opportunity to engage in better self-discipline, to put your spiritual house in order, to draw nearer to the Lord as you prepare for Easter. To that end, giving something up may prove useful, especially if it's something that you've become obsessive about and need to break free of, which can happen with things that are intrinsically innocent. But if you do this, it's between you and the Lord. There aren't pre-set rules about it, and you shouldn't be blabbing about it anyway, because Jesus said not to tell people when you fast."

Readers won't be terribly surprised to learn that I'm inclined toward Approach #3, wimpy, modern, and feel-good though it may sound. I fully realize that it is quite different from Approach #2, and I would not pretend otherwise. For that reason, I think it's rather confusing to talk about "giving up" things one shouldn't be doing anyway, like "giving up bitterness and anger for Lent." Let's get real. Whatever else giving stuff up for Lent has been traditionally, that ain't it. However, I do think Lent can provide a good opportunity to abandon bitterness and anger. So, aside from "giving up" anything, what I would like to do during Lent this year is to be thankful. Gratitude is incompatible with so many bad things. It's like a spiritual cleanser.

Today I'm thankful for so many things, including the beautiful sunshine and blue sky and the snow that looks like diamonds.

Like it or not (you don't have to watch it if you don't want to), here's Veggie Tales to remind us: A thankful heart is a happy heart.


Fake Herzog said...

The Veggie Tales always bring a smile to my face! I think I fall somewhere inbetween #s 2 and 3, although I'm probably closer to number 3 -- the only difference would be that I follow the Church's instructions concerning fast days, no meat on Fridays, etc.

I too am thankful for so much, especially the relationship I have again with the Lord after so many years away from him. I'm thankful He is merciful.

Lydia McGrew said...

Thanks so much, FH. God is good. He constantly pours himself out in gifts to us.

Kristor said...

I go for #4: Lenten discipline, and abstinence from things that one enjoys but that are intrinsically innocent, or even perhaps good, is important and salutary because the mental effort involved in renunciation, however trivial, forces us to remember Ash Wednesday: that we are dust, and to dust we shall return. It therefore forces us to remember implicitly both Good Friday and Easter.

But I guess that's really a weak-kneed version of #2.

Lydia McGrew said...

There definitely are shadings-off between #2 and #3.

Kristor, your comment raises the interesting question of the relationship between remembering and reenactment or participation. As in the case of the Sacrament itself, there are differences between a more Protestant and a more Catholic approach to renunciation. Is Lenten renunciation an actual participation in Christ's sufferings (hence obligatory) or is it a kind of remembrance with the intent to teach oneself something? We might say that there are semi-sacramental vs. more memorialist views on renunciation.

Kristor said...

Well, I'm a Whiteheadian, so as far as I'm concerned remembrance of x increases the influence thereof upon my present constitution (remembrance being a species of emphasis), so that I participate in x more fully.