Lent began four days ago on Ash Wednesday. When I was in the fourth grade, in Ennis, Mont., Lent was a pretty big deal.
A few weeks before Lent began, we would ask each other, "What are you giving up for Lent?" The question threw me for a loop at first: my mother took me to church, but I could not remember Lent ever coming up, let alone giving something up. But my friends (and my mother) filled me in pretty quick and we made our solemn announcements. Chewing gum was a popular choice.
Then on Ash Wednesday the Roman Catholics came to school after lunch with smudges on their foreheads. I was a little jealous until I got my smudge in the evening from the circuit-riding priest. (We were not well informed on MT 6:16 "Whenever you fast, do not look dismal like the hypocrites.") Then came the '60s, and austerity fell out of fashion. Faith itself was under fire, but among those who still practiced, the new ethic called for them to "give up giving something up," and instead "add something": a daily devotional reading, or (better) some volunteer work.
Rev. George Slanger
These days, the scene is more varied. Google "Lenten disciplines" and you will get 39,500 sites. More amazing, google "Anglican Lenten Disciplines" and you get 122,000 sites. Good heavens! Are Anglicans that much more "lenten," or do we need 82,500 more sites to get the job done?
It's hard even to recover the "original" meaning of Lent, because originally the 40 days before Easter were used to prepare adults for baptism with prayer, fasting, almsgiving and three hours of study a day. The Protestant Reformation took some of the gas out of Lent, and now many Protestant churches do not celebrate it all.
But the idea of preparation still seems valid, and basic. We do something for Lent to get ready for Easter. We wash our spiritual windows so that more light can come in. We clean out our spiritual closets to make more room for the gifts of the spirit. We deliberately enter a season of solemn darkness not to make us worthy of the light of Easter, for our own efforts can never do that but to heighten the contrast between our fallen nature and the salvation that has been offered us in the heavy cross and the empty tomb.
Reflections, a mini-sermon written by Minot and area clergy, will appear each Saturday in The Minot Daily News. Clergy interested in writing a mini-sermon should contact Religion Editor Loretta Johnson at 857-1952 or toll-free at 1-800-735-3229.