It’s Not Complicated: How the Liturgical Year Can Simplify Your Life (Lent, Pt.1)

“What’s a good Charismatic girl like you doing in a practice like this?!”

EngageHere we are, well into the new year. Advent, Christmas and Ephipany are behind us, the first period of Ordinary Time is nearly over and Lent is just around the corner.

A couple of years ago, I worked through Engage (Kai Nilsen & others), Renovare’s 2014 Lenten Guide, and what I experienced stuck with me. That’s one of the things the liturgical year does. It provides natural markers for those special moments in your journey, like photos next to that giant sequoia you took on your recent road trip (which I almost posted the picture of but was scared off by Getty’s copyright infringement notice…!)

The spiritual practice of observing the liturgical year, the church calendar, has allowed me to engage more fully with the essence of the story of God without adding to its complexity. Yet I encounter a range of responses when I talk about its value :

  • Fascination with its symbolism and unfamilar vocabulary
  • Curiosity, but with caution
  • Ambivalence within their own views
  • Perplexity over mine
  • Resistance
  • Disinterest. Period.

In my case, the ordered simplicity has helped me unwind a tangled accumulation of theological threads. As an Enneagram 4, notorious for our skills in creating chaos from clarity, it has been helpful in ordering my life around stated beliefs, something Barna’s research says we Christian types apparently aren’t so good at. On the other hand, Jesus was quite skilled at living with focus and great intention.

So…About Lent

Lent is not native to my formative Protestant tradition. Growing up, I heard it most often associated with Mardi Gras, the huge party filled with unspeakable iniquities  that served as its kickoff the night before. Therefore, Lent was implicated in the trangressions. Bummer. Because it’s much, much more.

In reality, Lent is the 40 days before Easter set aside for an honest look at our human condition, emphasizing our mortality and the need for repentance, or turning, from our selfish orientation toward God. It begins on Ash Wednesday, with a reminder that we will not live forever as the beings we now are, and that to experience our God-designed wholeness here and the best of life hereafter, we might consider looking to something outside of our mortal, finite selves; that we need–and have–a Savior. That’s the reason for the cross-shaped ashes drawn on the forehead. And yes, it feels weird and it gets in your hair and doesn’t always wash off easily–just keeping it real–in the way doing so keeps it real, which we don’t usually think of ’til someone we love dies in a rollover or loses a child.

Abstaining from sensory pleasures of some sort, prayerfully chosen, holds space for more focused reflection and an increased awareness of something more important than, say, the next episode of Blacklist–or whatever you’re currently binging on. Sorta like not texting at the dinner table so you can join the conversation…Archaic, I know.

While these are routinely practiced by those intentional about their life with God, setting aside time each calendar year, guarantees that we won’t get accidentally occupied and conveniently forget–a sort of spiritual Alzheimers. It means we participate with the community of Christian faith around the world, many traditions, at the same time. Engaging in such activity is an overwhelming prospect for some. Apparently that’s what all the partying is about–one last dance before the lights go out.

Living the God Story throughout the calendar year, reminds me that observing the life of Jesus creates clarity where I cloud most everything with complexity. It’s noteworthy that Easter follows closely with its promise of resurrection and new life. Now THAT’s what I’m talkin’ about.

Thank you, Sweet Jesus, for being so uncomplicated! I am in desperate need of such a Savior. And such a Savior You are.


BONUS:

Engage is available to download this year for a small donation to Renovare and is an accessible introduction to the lenten journey. Great for doing with a small group of friends.

Next time, an example of How Jesus Was Uncomplicated. 

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