What in heaven’s name is Lent?

How does something that slipped past you for years unnoticed prop itself right in front of you, blocking your vision, demanding that you dig deeper in order to understand a day that never required any second glances before?

Why was I so excited to go to the ship’s Lent service at 0730 this morning when I can’t recall ever anticipating it before?

It’s a question that I will have to figure out before this Lenten season is done.

The chaplaincy department on board is responsible for fostering and encouraging spiritual growth on board. They put on this service for us along with Advent services, New Years reflections and other reminders. It was a beautiful, simple service. It made me hungry for more.

Memories of Lent in childhood

My recollections of Lent from childhood revolve mostly around my religion teacher, Sister Damien (bless her soul) explaining that Lent was a time where you couldn’t say Hallelujah until Jesus rose from the dead on Easter Sunday because we were in mourning for him.

I thought that was the stupidest thing ever.

As I grew up, I noticed that Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, was the day when all of these people you never had a clue were religious or observant of any organized religion all came to work with ash on their foreheads.

It just seemed like an easy way to outwardly show one’s “religion” without saying anything, doing anything. You went to a 30 minute service (or less) and got branded with dirt for the day. Nothing permanent, no losses sustained, just a smear that would wash away with your next shower.

Easy enough. Anyone can do that.

Ash Wednesday this year

At the ship’s Ash Wednesday service this morning, I stood and walked to the front to receive my cross of ashes on my face. Dead center. Black and bold.

For the next 6 hours (until I finally showered) I wondered what people thought of me with my black mark on my face. I was a little humiliated. I felt like a show-off.

There must be more to this season! More than rules and restrictions. More than outward signs of religion. On the other hand, rituals and traditions are beautiful. When I participate I feel like I’m part of a global family of believers. I feel like Easter Sunday will mean so much more if I spend this time preparing my heart.

I’m not really sure what this season of Lent will be for me. I’m going to discipline myself in a few different ways. I’m pretty sure fasting from food isn’t for me. I want to listen, so I’d like my Lenten discipline to help me pay more attention.

Some ideas to observe Lent:

  • Lent Calendar: fun calendars where I can express myself artistically and remember my prayer focus for each day. Find them here.
  • Prayer of Examen each day. Mars Hill Bible Church has a helpful guide.
  • Email Devotionals with Scripture, music and artwork. Biola University is doing The Lent Project
  • No electronics in bed. I’ll leave my cell phone on the desk.
  • Waking earlier than usual to pray. If I can pull this one off I will be thoroughly impressed with myself.
  • Prayers for the persecuted and poor.

Some other resources I found today that are helping me figure this whole thing out:

  • SheReadsTruth talks about the value of rituals. They can be beautiful and they can point the way towards deeper understanding of faith.
  • A blog with a daily reading and thought to help focus on different aspects. I’ll be using these heart-prayers blog to help me with my Lent Calendar.
  • Rachel Held Evans gives us 40 Ideas for Lent 2015. Not only is there a variety of fantastic ideas, but she gives you even more links to even more resources!

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