Observance, Forgiveness, and Redemption
February 17th, 2010

I’ll go ahead and say it:  I’m religious. 

Now don’t go painting me with your Pat Robertson brush.  I’m not that kind of religious.  Just because I’m religious doesn’t mean I think you should be too. 

But my faith is something that matters a great deal to me.  It always has.  I have attended church weekly (for the most part) during every stage of my life – childhood, college, 20-something singleton, newlywed, and today.  (Also, in case you were wondering, no, I don’t believe that regular church attendance is the only way to have an active faith life.  But that’s a topic for another day.)  I frequently fail at my faith.  I sin every day.  I drift from God periodically.  There are times when my faith is more at the periphery than the center of my life.  But it is always there.

I say all this because today is Ash Wednesday.  Today begins the 40-day journey of Lent that marks Jesus’ period of wandering in the wilderness and leading up to His crucifixion.  Within some Christian denominations (Catholic, particularly) it is common practice to give up something for Lent.  As a nod to Christ’s suffering, we forego something that provides us pleasure or comfort so that we may be reminded of said suffering on a daily basis. 

As a child I was Presbyterian (to some extent I still am) and Lenten sacrifice was not a part of my upbringing.  When I began attending Catholic prep school in junior high I became more familiar with the practice.  And having had many Catholic friends over the years I’ve become well acquainted with the tradition of Lenten sacrifice. 

Here’s my problem with it.  At least as I have seen it practiced, it tends to be more about the technicalities and not so much about Christ.  People give up chocolate candy but still eat chocolate chip cookies because when hidden inside the cookie the chips “don’t count” as candy.  Or they give up cheese except on Sundays because technically Sundays are God’s day and aren’t part of Lent.  Or they give up meat on Fridays (a tradition derived from Middle Eastern fishing cultures where meat was considered a luxury) and instead (ironically) go out for lobster tail or Alaskan halibut topped with a port wine demi glace.  Or, they stick with their chosen sacrifice for a few days, fall off the wagon, and then blow off the rest of the season altogether.

And I’m not quite sure what any of that accomplishes.  For me to go 40 days without sweets would make me cranky, unpleasant, and more focused on planning an Easter menu geared toward saying “stick it!” to Lent than on really observing Christ.  This prospect leaves me cold.  Today, as an Episcopalian (the halfway point between my Presbyterian upbringing and my husband’s Catholic one), I am inclined to bring the observance of Lent into my daily life, but uninspired by the mere eradication of vices.     

[Sidebar: If you are an observer of Lenten sacrifice and feel that 40 days without alcohol or red meat really does bring you closer to God, then more power to you.  I certainly don’t mean to insult.  And I’ll be the first to admit that what doesn’t work for one person may be quite successful for someone else.]

There is an alternative, though.  That alternative is to do the opposite.  Rather than take something out of your life to mimic suffering, you add something to your life.  Perhaps you might carve out more prayer time.  Or volunteer at a homeless shelter.  Or become involved with a charity.  It is this path which I will travel for Lent this year.

Taking a page from my sister’s play book, I am going to adopt the practice of recording my gratitude and my prayers in a daily journal.  Through this practice I hope to become more aware of the many blessings in my life, and more mindful of those in need of my prayers.  I think on these topics frequently, but not regularly.  And I hope that ritualizing the acknowledgement of them will make me more aware of both.  (And if I’m being truly honest, I was very excited to shop for the perfect journal.)

The second Lenten observance does not relate so much to my faith as to my family; and I struggle with this one a bit for that reason.  I will tell you why I’m moving forward with it in spite of these concerns in a moment.  This is a step that GAP and I have decided to take together.  For the season of Lent we will eat dinner at our dining room table.  We eat dinner together every night; and almost every night it is something I have cooked from scratch.  But we almost always eat on trays in front of the television.  Now while we are a couple that communicates well and often, I can’t help but believe there are aspects of our lives getting lost in the shuffle for want of dinnertime conversation.  As for my aforementioned concerns?  It is my hope that through these dinners spent facing each other, instead of the cast of Entourage, we will spend some time discussing our journey through Lent, as well as the ups and downs of our days.    

To be sure, like so many aspects of my faith, I will fail at these too.  There will be nights when I’m dog tired and cannot bring myself to journal before my head hits the pillow.  There will be nights when we say, “But March Madness is in full swing.  Let’s just order carry-out and watch the game.”  But one thing I will commit to is bouncing back from those failures, rather than allowing them to sabotage my Lenten observance altogether.  Because if there’s one thing that the Christian faith offers, it’s forgiveness.  And if there’s a second thing, it’s redemption.

14 Responses to “Observance, Forgiveness, and Redemption”

  1. Nicki Says:

    I love your post, Gale. Being Catholic for the past 27 years and Episcopalian before that, I do recall the giving up. I am looking, this year, towards living Lent daily. I didn’t create the phrase. I found it at http://liveholiness.com/2010/02/16/25-ways-to-live-the-lenten-season/

  2. Anne Says:

    Love this post…in fact, I cited it today, so check it out. Anyway, I’m with you. I was thinking of “adding” something this year as well…and it rings more true to me than giving something up. I LOVE your goal of eating at the table. We tend to only eat at the table when I cook “a fancy meal”…but this is becoming more and more rare lately.

  3. Elizabeth @ Life in Pencil Says:

    As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not a religious person (although I guess I’d classify myself as “spiritual,” which I know some people think is a hokey or disingenuous term, but it works for me), but the idea of Lent has always appealed to me. And I agree with you that you have to consider the SPIRIT in which you’re approaching the season. “Technicalities” don’t quite seem in the spirit. So I applaud your efforts to do something genuine.

  4. TheKitchenWitch Says:

    Both of your Lenten goals are noble! I can’t wait to hear how they progress and your thoughts re: those changes.

  5. Lent Resolutions: Take my vitamins, Take a walk « Eva Evolving Says:

    [...] Gale at Ten Dollar Thoughts will keep a journal of people she is praying for and things she is grateful for. [...]

  6. Kristen @ Motherese Says:

    You and I are on the same wavelength today, although your end of it is certainly more thoughtful and more articulate. I wish us both resolve as we move forward with our Lenten affirmations.

    (I’m sorry I’ve missed so many of your recent posts. For some reason, your feed stopped coming through on my Google Reader, but I’m back now, resubscribed, and looking forward to getting caught up!)

  7. Mel Says:

    This is exactly what my sister and I decided to do together this Lenten season: add something rather than giving up. I am adding a daily reading from the four gospels, with a goal of reading them in their entirety by the end of Lent. Loved your post.

  8. becca Says:

    I am a firm believer that following a religion “by the book” just because it’s what you’re “supposed” to do is meaningless if it doesn’t work for you and your way of life. Not sure if that make sense so I’ll try to explain… I’m Jewish and celebrate all Jewish Holidays and make a point of upholding Jewish traditions in my home but I choose to “celebrate” some holidays in my own way so that they hold more personal meaning for me. For example, I do not fast on Yom Kippur. It would make it impossible to care for my kids without any food or water in my system and I have chosen instead to “atone” for my “sins” on this day by setting time aside to sit, and think and write ways I believe I can do better. Be better. Just starving myself because it’s what I’m supposed to do, would be ridiculous without the meaning behind it. I love how you’re choosing to “celebrate” Lent. I think it’s wonderful, special and personal.
    Thank you also for explaining Lent to me since I’ve never known the reason for taking something away during this time or even what the meaning of Lent is!
    Great post!

  9. Walter Says:

    I like what you have written here. It spell the truth about religion. I’m religious myself but not in a way most people see it. I believe in God, but I don’t believe in the tradition of our current religion. It does not make sense to me. :-)

  10. Aidan Donnelley Rowley @ Ivy League Insecurities Says:

    I love this post because you are at once open about your religiousness and willingness to ask questions about how it is practiced. I admire your critical and reverent eye and I think your goals are wonderful and well-conceived. I also like that you are forgiving yourself before the fact for slipping up. We all know that life is about slipping up, about making promises to ourselves and others and breaking them. We are not perfect beings, but there is indeed something noble about striving to be better and about accepting ourselves when we fall short.

  11. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » A Sense of Conviction Says:

    [...] I got in bed I started my prayer and gratitude journal for Lent.  There were many things I am thankful for.  The last two things on the list [...]

  12. Holly Says:

    A Catholic friend of mine who always gives up something for Lent also does exactly what you describe here. When we talked three or four years ago about my concerns about “giving something up” (which are similar to yours), she told me about her additional goal to add something Christ-like to her life for the 40 days in an attempt to incorporate the behavior permanently into her life. I’ve started doing that since, and it’s been an amazing way to celebrate the days leading to Easter. I love that Heather’s not the only one with this great idea, and I hope your writing about it spreads it to others!
    Hope you’re great!

  13. A bouquet of pleasurable moments « Eva Evolving Says:

    [...] laundry to game night to group hugs. I love it! This reminds me of Gale’s Lenten observance: keeping a gratitude journal to record her blessings, the many (ordinary, everyday?) things she is thankful [...]

  14. Ten Dollar Thoughts » Blog Archive » Pressured to Push Says:

    [...] other night during dinner (at the dining room table, like the good little Lenten observers that we are) GAP and I were discussing our friend’s upcoming delivery, and, in spite of all her [...]