Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Lent 101




Lent 2011 begins tomorrow with Ash Wednesday... but I'm sure there are plenty of you wondering what it's all about, besides giving up meat or something and people walking around with little black crosses on their heads. If, like me, you didn't grow up in a Christian community that observes this historical forty day fast and time of penance, this post is for you. Let me first get a few things out of the way:

1.) Lent isn't ONLY practiced by Roman Catholics. Some Protestant churches, such as Anglicans/Episcopalians, Lutherans, Methodists and Wesleyans do, too.

2.) Sundays aren't counted in the 40 days as they are considered feast days, a time to celebrate Jesus' resurrection.

Here is some more good info from MethodX: The Life:

"Lent is a season of the Christian Year where Christians focus on simple living, prayer, and fasting in order to grow closer to God. 


When is Lent?
It's the forty days before Easter. Lent excludes Sundays because every Sunday is like a little Easter. Basically, it's about one-tenth of a year (like a tithe of time). Mardi Gras is the day before Lent, which begins with Ash Wednesday. This year it's from March 9- April 24 (Easter) 2011...

...Ash Wednesday, the day after Mardi Gras, usually begins with a service where we recognize our mortality, repent of our sins, and return to our loving God. We recognize life as a precious gift from God, and re-turn our lives towards Jesus Christ. We may make resolutions and commit to change our lives over the next forty days so that we might be more like Christ. In an Ash Wednesday service, usually a minister or priest marks the sign of the cross on a person's forehead with ashes.  


Why ashes?
In Jewish and Christian history, ashes are a sign of mortality and repentance. Mortality, because when we die, our bodies eventually decompose and we become dust/ dirt/ash/whatever. Repentance, because long ago, when people felt remorse for something they did, they would put ashes on their head and wear "sackcloth" (scratchy clothing) to remind them that sin is pretty uncomfortable and leads to a sort of death of the spirit. This was their way of confessing their sins and asking for forgiveness...

Why "DO" Lent? How do I start?
Are you searching for something more? Tired of running in circles, but not really living life with direction, purpose or passion? It's pretty easy to get caught up in the drama of classes, relationships, family, and work. Our lives are filled with distractions that take us away from living a life with Christ. We try to fill the emptiness inside us with mindless TV, meaningless chatter, stimulants, alcohol, too many activities or other irrelevant stuff. We run away from life and from God.
Lent is a great time to "repent" -- to return to God and re-focus our lives to be more in line with Jesus. It's a 40 day trial run in changing your lifestyle and letting God change your heart. You might try one of these practices for Lent:
FASTING: Some people have been known to go without food for days. But that's not the only way to fast. You can fast by cutting out some of the things in your life that distract you from God. Some Christians use the whole 40 days to fast from candy, tv, soft drinks, cigarettes or meat as a way to purify their bodies and lives. You might skip one meal a day and use that time to pray instead. Or you can give up some activity like worry or reality tv to spend time outside enjoying GodÕs creation. What do you need to let go of or "fast" from in order to focus on God? What clutters your calendar and life? How can you simplify your life in terms of what you eat, wear or do?
SERVICE: Some Christians take something on for Christ. You can collect food for the needy, volunteer once a week to tutor children, or work for reform and justice in your community. You can commit to help a different stranger, co-worker or friend everyday of Lent. Serving others is one way we serve God.
PRAYER: Christians also use Lent as a time of intentional prayer. You can pray while you walk, create music or art as a prayer to God, or savor a time of quiet listening. All can be ways of becoming more in tune with God.

Christians from many different traditions celebrate Lent. How will you use the time to grow closer to God?

Top Ten List: THINGS YOU CAN TRY FOR THE LENTEN SEASON

10. Try an electronic fast. Give up TV, Guitar Hero, texting, tweeeting, e-mail and all things electronic for one day every week. (or everyday of Lent!) Use the time to read & pray.
9. Start a prayer rhythm. Say a prayer every time you brush your teeth, hear an ambulance, or check your e-mail. Before you text someone, pray for them.
8. Read one chapter in the Bible each day. (Matthew's a good book to start with. Psalms, too.)
7. Forgive someone who doesn't deserve it (maybe even yourself.)
6. Give up soft drinks, fast food, tea or coffee. Give the money you save to help folks in Haiti or others in crisis.
5. Create a daily quiet time. Spend 30 minutes a day in silence and prayer.
4. Cultivate a life of gratitude. Write someone a thank you letter each week and be aware of how many people have helped you along the way.
3. Be kind to someone each day.
2. Pray for others you see as you walk to and from classes or drive to and from work.
1. Volunteer one hour or more each week with a local shelter, tutoring program, nursing home, prison ministry or a Habitat for Humanity project."

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