While I don’t commemorate Ash Wednesday (Orthodox churches have Forgiveness Sunday instead, to kick off Great Lent), I consider it a beautiful and moving tradition, reminding us that “from dust we came, and to dust we shall return,” and to mourn our sins as in “sackcloth and ashes.” At least inwardly.
I find it interesting, all the different ways people prepare for Easter. Catholics have gone from a complete vegan fast several hundred years ago, to not eating meat on Fridays, to a discipline of their choice and not eating meat on Good Friday. I liked the short article Just Give it up for a modern Catholic perspective on the Great Fast.
I gave up coffee one Lent. I thought I could handle it. I wanted to feel the pinch, but I didn’t expect (or want) to feel walloped with a bat instead. I gave it up, and I found that I really missed it.
For one thing, I soon realized that I didn’t like coffee only for the taste, or for the caffeine, but for the rituals, of getting up from my desk and wandering to the faculty lounge to get another cup, of chatting with the colleagues on the way, of wandering back to my office to settle in again after a pleasant break. It just didn’t feel right, not getting up for coffee.
And there was the caffeine, or the sudden lack of it. For maybe three weeks I found myself with a sudden craving for Classic Coke, something I rarely drink, and getting up from my desk to walk across the seminary quad to the soda machine in another building, even when it was pouring rain, and I did so without the slightest idea why. Then I realized I’d only found, through some subconscious sense, a substitute source of an addictive drug and was happy to risk illness to get it.
Then there’s the Evangelical observance. That’s a tricky one: it’s all about the individual conscience, and must not look anything like obedience to the disciplines of the Church. People should, perhaps, fast – but only as they are being led individually by God to do so. At least such was the message of the church I grew up in. Urbana, the Intervarsity missions organization, suggests keeping Lent by imitating the food available to the poor throughout the world. This is a distinct improvement from the “any fast you undertake must be entirely your own idea” sentiments that seem to have been going around lately. Of course, I most love my own church’s traditions, partly because they’re Orthodox and I love anything Orthodox, and partly because Lent really feels like a different season – not winter, not spring – just Lent; and it has a magnificent way of bringing a church together. More on them Sunday.