Congratulations, Community Christian Church!
The Lenten season has a multitude of meanings and a vast array of possible interpretations.
Lent it is like an organized communal spiritual retreat for a whole community of Christians.
Lent is a like a great family reunion, wherein, across time and space, the Christian tribe renews its acquaintance with its family tree, retells the stories of its rich heritage, and reinvigorates its commitments to a promising future.
Lent is like a refresher course in the basic tenets of Christian belief and tradition.
Lent is like an up-grade of new-found capabilities which, when properly installed, will empower greater achievement in a more flexible faith for the current needs of contemporary life.
Lent is like an annual spring training ritual which prepares players for the on-going regular season of faith.
Surely, there are many other unique interpretations for Lent which each of us can imagine. As you prepare for the Lenten season, allow me to proffer the following “A-B-C-D-E-F’s” of Lent for your consideration and our mutual edification.
APPRAISAL — Lent is a matter of appraising the whole of one’s life, with a particular focus on one’s spiritual sensibilities: How meaningful is my existence? Am I doing the most I can to fulfill my God-given potential, to exercise my talents, and deepen my loving relationships with God and others. To assist in such an appraising, we emphasize the disciplines of prayer, study, reflection, worship, and service.
BOLDNESS — Lent is about God’s boldness in loving the world toward salvation. In the Christian faith tradition we proclaim that the embodiment of the God’s ultimate caring for the whole of creation has happened in the Loving One, Christ Jesus of Nazareth, and that same kind of embodiment can happen again in the heart and soul of those who follow him. Jesus is God’s bold-faced declaration to the world: “I love you!”
CONFESSION — Lent is always about confession, though it never really requires an earthly mediator. Confession — when humbly offered before God as an occasion of closure and truth-telling regarding one’s past so that the future can be entered with a clear-horizon — can be a true revolution, radically redefining and re-shaping your destiny.
DEDICATION — Lent is about the call to dedication — to a task, to a project, to a new orientation regarding prayer and worship, to a relationship, to one’s private commitments before God and public commitments in the community of faith. Dedication is the currency we expend for fulfillment.
ENERGY — Lent is about energizing one’s faith, and one’s entire world, for that matter, with the power which God’s Spirit imparts to welcoming hearts. Despite the stereotypes, cliches, and traditional categorizations, Lent is not supposed to be a time of morose introspection, saccharine-laced piety, and punitive self-abasement. As we lift up God’s loving intentions for the whole world, we too are lifted up and energized.
FIDELITIES — Lent is supremely about our fidelities, our acts of faith, within a host of relationships — with God, with fellow believers, with our church, with our families, and with a world direly in need of redemption. Faithfulness is finally what holds our lives together, in this world and the next. Fidelity is the ultimate glue which strengthens our bonds, maintains our integrity, and unites the faithful around the only verity worth honoring — God’s unwavering faithfulness with us.
— Bob Hill
Today, Ash Wednesday, marks the beginning of the Lenten season on the Church’s calendar. While it doesn’t have as many sparkling secular resonances as other special seasons do, Lent is surely one of the most important moments among the Church’s ritual observances.
In Lent we see the implications of the incarnation, as we behold the gift of God’s eternal hopefulness in response to humanity’s persistent needs.
In Lent we remember that Jesus was just like us, struggling in the wilderness of life to overcome temptation, to embrace firmly what is best and most noble in life.
In Lent we begin to see that, however dismal our attempts at righteousness have been, we too can overcome and prevail.
At the conclusion of the Lenten journey we hesitatingly peek and then openly stare at the shimmering glory of God’s power to overcome all things harmful, crass, and destructive by the sheer force of divine love.
Today is also Valentine’s Day, a coincidental fusion with the occasion of Ash Wednesday that last happened in 1945.
While not a church holy day in very many circles, Valentine’s Day does have church roots. The myths about St. Valentine are many and varied.
Among the most popular recollections is one about a valiant Christian named Valentinus, who was jailed because of his steadfast refusal to venerate any of the Roman idols during the reign of emperor Claudius II Gothicus. The jailer’s daughter, Julia, so the story goes, came and visited Valentinus, and he tutored her in mathematics and faith in God. Blind since birth, Julia received a note from Valentinus at the time of his execution, February 14th. The note thanked her for her kindness during his imprisonment and was signed “Love, from your Valentine.”
As the story also goes, when Julia received the note, her sight was restored. The year was 270. The gate where Valentinus was executed was later named Porta Valentini in his memory. It is said that Julia herself planted a pink blossomed almond tree near his grave at what is now the Church of Praxedes. Because of the reported miracle of Julia’s restored sight and the compelling power of Valentinus’ faithful witness, Pope Gelasius I of the Roman Catholic Church eventually decreed February 14th as Saint Valentine’s Day in the year 496.
A millennium and a half later, we are now fully engaged in remembering St. Valentine’s Day, though, in the U.S. context, with a lot more chocolate than when it began.
Over the years traditions have multiplied. In Wales wooden “love spoons” were carved and given as gifts with hearts, keys and keyholes as favorite decorations on the spoons; the decorations meant “You unlock my heart.”
In the Middle Ages, young men and women would draw names from a bowl and then wear them on their sleeves for a week. In contemporary times, chocolate sales soar, flower orders quadruple, restaurant reservations triple, and marriage proposals and weddings abound on Valentine’s Day, as on no other day on the calendar.
It’s all good, in my book. I encourage us all to enjoy the day as much as possible with as much enthusiasm (and chocolate) as we can muster. Let us also humbly honor the inspiration for the occasion which no mythology can confuse or obliterate: love.
With regard to love on this year’s conflation of Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, allow me to suggest three actions for consideration:
(1) Say your love to those closest to you. No matter how often or infrequent you may normally say it, engage in the practice of verbal love with those in your innermost circle of relationships.
(2) Pray that love may be infused in all relationships in all aspects of human existence. From the meagerest to the mightiest person on the face of the globe, love is the ultimate mold in which we were all created. Love is our origin and our destiny, and we cannot be fulfilled until we experience love in all of its fullness.
(3) Live in such a manner that the work of love will be increased and help to defuse crises. Love is not merely kind words on a card nor only a nice sentiment expressed one day of the year. Love is an ethic for the living of our days. Jesus mandated love as the key to relationships with God, neighbors, and even enemies. The apostle Paul described love’s enduring capabilities when he rightly noted that “Love never ends.” The Hebrew prophets and the psalms consistently affirmed the unfailing love which God has for humanity and the world.
In the long run, hate can never prevail in human relationships. It is only the ethic of love that can build a better world. It just may be that a keener appreciation for Valentine’s Day could be an ultimate blessing for the world’s future.
– Bob Hill
[This piece includes an adaptation of words from LIFE’S TOO SHORT FOR ANYTHING BUT LOVE (Woodneath Press, 2015)]