Today, as you may or may not know, is Ash Wednesday. The first Day of Lent.
Now, when I was growing up, my churches never really did much with Lent. I was never encouraged to give up anything. I think it was generally considered a Catholic practice. It wasn’t until College that I ever really even paid attention to this season on the Church calendar. My freshman year, three friends and I all decided to give up sweets. That’s a pretty popular choice these days. It was hard, and I remember we had trouble with grey areas like sugary cereal and pop-tarts. But we did it.
I had one professor at C of O who was particularly in tune with the practices of the church, whether ancient, modern, contemporary, or postmodern. My senior year I took his class on Christian Worship and the class was divided into groups (were we in the same group Brianne? I completely forget!) to prepare and provide a Lenten service, one group a week. Again, prior to that, I’d never really paid a whole lot of attention to Church seasons, least of all Lent.
At the beginning of this year, I was reading a book I got for Christmas. It was Lauren Winner’s Girl Meets God. (Yes, the same Lauren Winner I got to meet and hear at Jubilee as I discussed in my last post.) She writes from a background in the Jewish Orthodoxy and mentions how they use a calendar of seasons to guide their worship. Most churches don’t seem to do this as much anymore…but her current church, which is Episcopalian, does. It was one of the reasons she was drawn to it.
There is a chapter in GMG where Lauren relates a conversation with her pastor just before Lent. He asks her what she is giving up; she tells him she’s going to fast on Fridays. He then asks her to give up something in addition: books.
When I read that, two things happened to me.
One was, I think my heart stopped. I was dismayed beyond words at the thought of giving up something like that.
The second thing was, I felt a nudge from the Holy Spirit.
Now, if you’ve ever felt this kind of nudge, you know what I mean. It’s a kind of spiritual elbow to the ribs. I’ve felt it before; it usually accompanies something I really don’t want to do. Something I feel I shouldn’t have to do. Something I could probably justify not doing. But when you get that nudge, there’s really only a couple options: obey, or disobey.
I know from past experiences with the said nudges, that if I do the thing I don’t want to, if I obey, it is usually to my benefit. It might be hard, even painful, but good comes out of it.
So I began by telling my family I was giving up reading books for Lent. They responded with surprise, even a little skepticism (as I said, we never did much with Lent) but eventually encouragement. I told Brianne; she too was encouraging but also a little surprised. If you know me at all, you know I read. If you know me well, you know I devour books. I read all the freaking time. I always seem to have a book stashed somewhere—in the bathroom, in stacks by my bed, in my purse….
But I know that God is not just calling me to give up reading because it takes up so much of my time. I know it has to do with obedience, and keeping my love of books from becoming idolatry. So I will be obedient. It is nerve-wracking, quite frankly, to realize that I will not be picking up and reading any book at all (except the Bible) for the next 47 days. Especially after I bought all those books at Jubilee. I already have a considerable list accumulating of books to read when Lent is over.
It sounds crazy, even to me. But I don’t share this story to say “look how holy I am,” I share it so that you can participate by encouraging me. This will be a challenge, I know, and it’s only day one. You can pray for me, that in the absence of my reading God will show me what he wants me to learn, and that I won’t just fill it with something else. Like TV. Even though I did just get season 4 of MacGyver.
Books are a big, dare I even say HUGE, part of my life; but God must be bigger still. I look forward to this time of Lent with anticipation and trepidation both; who can say but God how I will emerge? What will God teach me in the next 47 days, about discipline, obedience, and grace? Well, when I find out, so will you!