A friend of the family just started a new blog. As he is prone to insightful, interesting thoughts, I very much hope he keeps it up. More to the point, I hope he updates it more than he has been as yet. Even so, The Train Station is worth taking a look at.
His first post, on “Longing for Lent,” reminded me of my parents, and especially my dad. Evangelicals in general, and Northwest Bible Church in particular, have solid theology, and no liturgics to speak of. Episcopalians have lovely liturgics, and mushy theology. Since God is infinitely more important than candles and vestments, it makes sense to go with theology over liturgics. Catholicism and Orthodoxy have solid theology and liturgics (mostly), but demand loyalty.
Lent begins today, Ash Wednesday, and I feel like I’m missing something, like I’m being left out. I am missing something, but what exactly?
This is what I guess. Those of us in the protestant evangelical non-liturgical community don’t have much tradition in the way of religious day observances. By this neglect we impoverish ourselves, don’t we? We miss out on the continuity of faith these observances provide, the connection they bring with saints of old. And I think, from accounts I’ve read, that by discarding the discipline of Lent we miss an opportunity to experience a closer communion with Christ.
I guess I could celebrate Lent independently, on my own. Ha, isn’t that a typically evangelical answer? But I suspect I would still miss something. Because it looks to me like Lent is at once a deep personal experience and a strong communal celebration.
I’m inclined to say “yes! By all means celebrate Lent! Read Great Compline and the Canon of Saint Andrew and have vegan potlucks and book clubs devoted to the Desert Fathers! Or, if that’s too weird, keep the Western lenten traditions. They are, if anything, rather more difficult. Stand in freezing water while reciting the entire Psalter. Live off of cabbage and potatoes. Say the Jesus prayer in the dark with a candle burning. Sleep on rocks in your yard. Cover yourself in sackcloth and ashes. All that good stuff. Entice some friends to join you in this by your overflowing enthusiasm.” When pressed, I would explain that I meant most of that more poetically than literally, and even as poetry it only works in the light of the Resurrection. Saint Patrick probably would have meant it literally, but as I mentioned before, we’re wimps.
But that would be hypocrisy on my part. Before I went out and adopted a tradition, all the rocks and candles in the world couldn’t have made lent what it is within the Church. I couldn’t have invented the Presanctified Liturgies or Holy Week or Forgiveness Sunday or Ash Wednesday or prayer ropes any more than I could have invented the Iliad or Hamlet. It just wasn’t going to happen. I could have come up with a fasting rule for myself, but that is, on the whole, the least important part of Lent. The fast may add depth and contrition to the prayers, but without the prayers the fast is nothing more than a diet. And without a community, how do we learn to love the prayers?
My sympathies go out to my brothers and sisters in the Evangelical movement. where so much sincerity is paired with so little poetry. I wonder if it would help if some liturgical enthusiasts explained to the leaders that a formal service is no more likely to be “dead” than a sonnet is; and to the extent it has God as it’s object it’s bound to be a good deal more lively.