This coming Wednesday is Ash Wednesday. At the 12:30 service that day at Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church, we will gather for prayer and song to mark the beginning of Lent.
Every Lent, my quirky friend, Stan, who had a Ph.D. in liturgics (a fancy name for the study of Christian worship), used to announce that he was taking on a spiritual discipline for Lent. He used to announce that he was taking on "The Discipline of Sausages."
Coming from the worship professor at the seminary, Stan's words shocked students and colleagues alike. Sausages? The discipline of sausages?
We were shocked for two reasons.
First, we had all been taught that Lent was about giving something up-something that you enjoyed. Many of us had made Lenten pledges to give up chocolate, wine, and (shudder) coffee. So we were mystified by Stan's suggestion that for Lent we might add rather than subtract.
Second, we were scandalized because taking on "the discipline of sausages" did not sound difficult. Not at all. It sounded enjoyable. A reward and not a punishment. The whole thing didn't seem to be in the spirit of Lent, or at least Lent as we knew it, a spiritual justification for going on a two-month diet.
Of course, this was Stan's point.
Stan wanted us to see Lent as something more than spring's self-help ritual. He wanted his students and colleagues to see it as a season in which we might add something Godly, something shocking, something disruptive to our lives.
Well, over the centuries, Christians have taken on all sorts of things during the season of Lent. Some have carved out a special part of the day (often in the early morning) to read a devotional and say a prayer. Some decide that this is the time when they will volunteer at the Shelter or the Bowery to help those in need. Some have gone away on a silent retreat to spend a few days in a simple, quiet setting focused on God and God's desires for their lives. Some have recommitted themselves to worship-to joining the community of the faithful every Sunday for prayer and song and fellowship.
And here's the thing. While these things take time, not one of these disciplines is meant to be painful. They are not supposed to make you feel miserable. They are holy ways to use your time, and, as such, they will feed your soul (like a good sausage would feed your body!).
Trust me. Heck, trust my old friend, Stan. Shock your friends. Take something on this Lent-some outrageous spiritual thing that you haven't made time for in recent months/years.
For in these holy things there is life!
Please give me a shout if you are going down this road... What are you taking on this Lent?
[Taken with permission from "Sharp About Your Prayers," Scott's blog. Originally posted March 4, 2010.]