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Tomorrow I'll go to church in the evening and get ashes on my forehead.
"Ashes to ashes and dust to dust" our priest will say to me.*
Because I am dust, and someday I will be dust again.
I've been thinking about Lent lately--the church season that starts at Ash Wednesday and counts down the 40 days to Easter--thinking about what I need to confess and what I need to practice in order to work out my salvation this year. I'm so interested in the great resurgence of Lenten practices among Evangelical Christians, at least the Evangelicals in my little corner of the blogosphere. Why are we so hungry for these practices? Maybe it's just too hard to strip away from the Christian faith practices that developed over the past 2000 years all the "thou shalts" and live only with the "thou shalt nots."
What I mean by that is that we need active practices of faith, not just rules about the sins to avoid. I remember once growing up, my pastor spent two months on a sermon series talking about the long list of vices listed before the fruits of the spirit and only two weeks about the fruits. Though he didn't say it, his sermons showed that the fruits--Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, self-control--were too abstract to be significant. The basic Evangelical definition of these was shallow. They were only the absence of the sins, really. Love = not hatred, not unfaithfulness. Joy = not unhappy, not envious. Peace = not war. Patience = not anger. Kindness = not meanness. Goodness = not badness, not breaking the rules. Self-control = not doing anything bad or, if necessary, not doing anything at all so as not to do something bad accidentally.
But since I started attending the Anglican church, every week we confess "our manifold sins and wickednesses which from time to time we have committed by thought, word, deed, and what we have failed to do."
Sin isn't just doing the wrong thing, it's also not doing the right thing when action is necessary. It's anytime we miss the mark (like in archery, failing to hit the bullseye). If we fail to shoot at all, we will certainly can't hit the mark.
For me this Lent, I'm working on doing the right thing in an area where I have let something slide which ought to have been done. I'm confessing that I have been ungrateful for my friendships. I'm going to write the 200 or so thank you notes for wedding gifts that never got written five years ago, to track down the addresses and to send them all (some with the card from five years ago which was written but never sent also enclosed).
So there you have it. Why do we need Lent, even as Evangelicals? Because our lives are full of sins, small and large. And lenten disciplines of giving something up or taking something on turn us back in the right direction, toward the mark, toward God. They remind our very bodies where our true hunger is fulfilled, where our true needs can be met, where our restless hearts can be occupied with good work.
*I amended what the priest would say, to what he actually said, in my next post.