By Ann Hight
Last year I was exploring some of the ancient practices of the Church. I read about solitude, Sabbath keeping, journaling, and other personal spiritual quests. I decided to engage in the practice of lent. I thought a lot about what to do, what to give up, what to add in. It was a private endeavor. I wasn’t so sure that any of my friends or family would be very keen on this ancient practice that was so new to me so I just kept it to myself.
That was a mistake. Trying to go it alone doomed my plan. In just a few days my weak will was overcome by the press of "real life" and lent got lost in the shuffle. So when we began talking about doing lent around East Hills this year I was both excited and apprehensive. I love the idea, but was dogged by my earlier failure.
I was on sabbatical when lent began for me this year. I was out of touch with the details of our church observance so I began my practice of lent on the more traditional day of Ash Wednesday, about a week and a half before most of the church began "lenting". But this year, several people in my family began on the same day so I had a little support this time.
After some consideration, I decided to give up all beverages except for water. I did not really expect this to be much of a challenge since I do not have coffee every single morning, don’t drink that much of any one particular thing. For a day or two I was just fine. Then someone brought over a pizza. In my world, pizza REQUIRES root beer. Ouch. A day or so later, on a very gray and grim morning, I could actually hear a double short cinnamon dolce latte calling my name. Ouch. And I discovered that warm toast without cold milk is just dry bread.
By this time, the church had begun the observance of lent. It was my first day back to church. As I watched friends carry cards forward to make their pledge, along with remotes, candy bars, bags of sugar, and many other representations of their commitment, I was moved by the sincerity and earnestness of what I was witnessing. I felt enfolded and empowered to be part of a wonder-filled journey with friends. I was no longer trudging along on a lonely road, but a fellow traveler anticipating the adventure.
Along with giving up all drinks but water, I have been making an informal study of places in Scripture where water is a key part of the story: the woman at the well in John 4, the crossing of the Red Sea in Exodus 14, and others. I have had a renewing time in the "water of the Word" as God has chosen to speak to me in the particular circumstances of my life.
And since I began lent on the more traditional date, according to my official orthodox source, I am "allowed" to have each Sunday off from lent. That way, it still ends up being forty days. So this past Sunday morning I went to Starbucks for my you-know-what. However, as I carried it in to the church I was extremely self conscious that I was breaking the rules that my lent friends were keeping. I actually stashed the coffee in my office until after worship practice so no one would see me. By the time I secretly drank it 45 minutes later, it was pretty tepid, definitely not worth the hassle! I know that my enthusiasm for lent is tied directly to participating in it with you. How can I falter when friends are nearby, going through the same thing? I truly believe that our lent experience has it’s greatest value in us as a group, though the individual practice is very worthwhile. I hope you are finding your lent challenges to be rewarding as we realign our priorities and collectively step closer to Christ. Easter will be a grand celebration together.