In this episode of Christian Mythbusters, Father Jared debunks the myths about Lent and the idea that it’s primarily about giving up coke or chocolate or some other delight. You can hear Christian Mythbusters in the Grand Haven area on 92.1 WGHN, on Wednesdays at 10:30am and Sundays at 8:50am.
The transcript of the episode is below, or you can listen to the audio at the bottom of the post.
This is Father Jared Cramer from St. John’s Episcopal Church in Grand Haven, Michigan, here with today’s edition of Christian Mythbusters, a regular segment I offer to counter some common misconceptions about the Christian faith.
Here we are on Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the Season of Lent and the day that many of you have started giving up soda or chocolate or alcohol or some other delight in life.
While giving up something is an important part of observing this season (I’m giving up something, too), it’s not actually, though, at the heart of what Lent is about. So, today I’d like to bust the myth that Lent is primarily about not having coke or chocolate.
Lent began in the early church as a period of fasting, prayer, and preparation for catechumens—those who were going to be baptized at Easter. Over time, though, the preparatory aspects of Lent spread and were practiced by all those in the community, not just those preparing for baptism. Lent also became a time when those who had been separated from the church due to some kind of notorious sin were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness.
So, the first thing to remember, is that the point of Lent is to prepare you for Easter. Lent is not meant to be simple mortification, or giving things up. It is not like a second round of New Year’s resolutions. If you give something up, it is to help you do the spiritual work you need to do so that you can more fully celebrate at Easter.
In the Episcopal Church, we invite people to the observance of a Holy Lent with five different practices—not just giving up something sweet.
The first practice of Lent is “Self-Examination and Repentance.” Called examen in Latin, the examination of conscience is one of the fundamental Christian spiritual practices. It was first enjoined by St. Paul who warned that, before receiving Holy Communion, you should “Examine yourselves, and only then eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” Throughout history many spiritual mothers and fathers of the church have urged a daily examination of conscience, which also includes repenting from sins you have done and seeking to amend your life.
The second practice of Lent is “Prayer.” And, as I’ve said before on Christian Mythbusters, we must remember that prayer is primarily about practicing the presence of God. Or, as our prayer book says, it is “response to God, by thought and by deeds, with or without words.” During Lent you try to me more intentional about your prayer life, about setting aside time to be in the presence of God and responding to God’s presence in your life.
Fasting is the practice of going without food for a period of time… sort of. Traditionally there are two related practices here. “Abstinence” means lowering the quality of your food, for example, abstaining from meat. Fasting means lowering the quantity of food you eat. So, having a great big basket of fish and chips because it’s Lent is not really what it is about. My wife and I decided to fast one year by eating vegetarian for the entire season—but we also quickly discovered you can do that without actually lowering the quality of the food you eat by much. What you should focus on for your Lenten fast is eating more simply and also eating less. A traditional fast is eating one main meal with two smaller meals at other times during the day, those two smaller meals, put together, still being less than a full meal.
Self-denial is where you get to the giving up chocolates or soda part of Lent. You are to deny yourself something you normally enjoy for the purpose of increasing your willpower and spiritual discipline. Every time you crave what you have given up you remember the choice you have made, the commitment you have placed upon yourself. Studies have actually shown that engaging in self-denial can increase your willpower in other areas of your life.
The final practice is reading and meditation on God’s holy Word—the Bible. If you are only giving things up for Lent and not taking anything on, you are missing the richness of the season. Because while you are fasting and abstaining, while you are more active in prayer and more attentive to your inner spiritual life, you will also become better able to hear God’s voice in Holy Scripture. So, find a good reading plan and carve out a few minutes a day to read Scripture. Whether you follow the Daily Office (as many in our church do), sign-up for a plan on a Bible app, or just choose to read through a section of Scripture, you will be blessed by the opportunity to listen more carefully and closely to God’s call in your life.
Self-examination and repentance. Prayer. Fasting. Self-denial. Reading and meditating on Scripture. These are the ingredients for a Holy Lent—and if you use them all, it will be a much more powerful experience than just giving something up.
And if you’d like to have a community to begin Lent with, you’re more than welcome to join us. We’ll be streaming live on our YouTube channel (youtube.com/sjegrandhaven), a service in English at noon and a bilingual service in English and Spanish at 6pm. And you can even come to the church parking lot at 524 Washington in Grand Haven, after the services, from 1:00pm-1:30pm or from 7:00pm-7:30pm, and receive ashes and Holy Commnuion. I’d love to see you.
Thanks for being with me. To find out more about my parish, you can go to sjegh.com. Until next time, remember, protest like Jesus, love recklessly, and live your faith out in a community that accepts you but also challenges you to be better tomorrow than you are today.