Well according to the calendar, what’s right around the corner is February. I suspect many of us are beginning to breathe a sigh of relief that we are indeed over the mountain top of winter…or at least we hope so! On the other hand, there are those who embrace the winter season because they love the crispness of the winter air as they ski down the snowy slopes and still others relish the coming of January because it means they are heading for the warmth of the sunny south, or enjoying cruises to mark special occasions!!! What is also around the corner in the church year is the season of Lent. In case you are already wondering about when it starts, there won’t be much of an excuse to miss it this year because Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine’s Day …February 14th !!!!
That’s quite a paradox of celebrations don’t you think? Around one corner there might be that special “goodie” that we give ourselves permission to indulge in and around the next corner is the traditional question “What are you giving up for Lent?” Early church father, Irenaus of Lyons (c.130-c.200), wrote of such a season in the earliest days of the church, but back then it lasted only two or three days, not the 40 observed today. In 325, the Council of Nicea discussed a 40-day Lenten season of fasting, but it’s unclear whether its original intent was just for new Christians preparing for Baptism, but it soon encompassed the whole Church. How exactly the churches counted those 40 days varied depending on location. In the East, one only fasted on weekdays. The western church’s Lent was one week shorter, but included Saturdays. But in both places, the observance was both strict and serious. Only one meal was taken a day, near the evening. There was to be no meat, fish, or animal products eaten. Until the 600s, Lent began on Quadragesima (Fortieth) Sunday, but Gregory the Great (c.540-604) moved it to a Wednesday, now called Ash Wednesday, to secure the exact number of 40 days in Lent—not counting Sundays, which were feast days.
Gregory, who is regarded as the father of the medieval papacy, is also credited with the ceremony that gives the day its name. As Christians came to the church for forgiveness, Gregory marked their foreheads with ashes reminding them of the biblical symbol of repentance (sackcloth and ashes) and mortality: “You are dust, and to dust you will return” (Gen 3:19). By the 800s, some Lenten practices were already becoming more relaxed. First, Christians were allowed to eat after 3 p.m. By the 1400s, it was noon. Eventually, various foods (like fish) were allowed, and in 1966 the Roman Catholic church only restricted fast days to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. It should be noted, however, that practices in Eastern Orthodox churches are still quite strict. Like all Christian holy days and holidays, the time of Lent has changed over the years, but its purpose has always been the same: it is a dedicated time of spiritual discipline; a time for renewal, self-examination, prayer, inner contemplation and reflection in preparation for Easter. According to the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke it has been traditionally regarded as a commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert, before he began his public ministry. Spiritual disciplines such as observing a true Lent takes time and a commitment. Lent offers us that opportunity to set aside some dedicated time to become aware of where we are in our life and what is important to us. It invites us to look deeply into the mirror of who we are, what’s working in our lives and perhaps what’s not working so well for us. Reframing the “giving up” sense of Lent to focussing our awareness of the blessings or gifts in our lives can be a radical shift in cognitive thinking and our attitude of gratitude. We cannot change what we are not aware of and acknowledge. Here at Forest Hill, during the season of Lent there are 2 opportunities to dig deeper into your spiritual nature.
1. If you like to do your own personal contemplation, this United Church Daily Devotion entitled “Why I Believe”, on faith and discipleship offers candid, thoughtful reflections. It is an excellent choice. Along with a study guide it explores what it means to follow Jesus, remain faithful, and choose hope, especially during times of uncertainty and doubt each day. There is an order sign-up sheet on the bulletin board by the coat racks. The order will be placed on Monday, February 6th. The cost is $18.00.
2. If you enjoy conversation and a shared learning experience consider this your invitation to join a group of us who will be exploring the book “The Gifts of Imperfections” by Brene Brown. We will discuss the obstacle guideposts which hinder us from living authentically and wholeheartedly. This book comes highly recommended by many who feel it has been transformational in their lives. The group will meet beginning on Wed Feb 21st at 7:14 in the Fireside Room. The book is available at Chapters or on Amazon. Please let Rev. Ellen know if you are planning to join us. Bless now O God, the journey we travel together; assured of your companionship around every corner we turn!