I'm not sure exactly yet what I'm doing for Lent. I don't really think of it as giving something up with the implication that, well, the implication is usually that it's sort of a pointless exercise in self-deprivation. Lent should never be pointless. The point of Lenten devotion (including fasting, broadly defined), as I understand it, is twofold. First, Lent is an exercise in spiritual discipline. By the very act of intentionally doing anything, we are reminded daily throughout the season that we belong to God. Second, by cutting out the extraneous things in our lives, we make room for God, make ourselves holy vessels for God's presence. I think we (and I know often I) use Lent as a time of self-improvement. Which is not bad in and of itself, and I've broken some bad habits (i.e., Baby-Sitters Club books in sixth grade, and if you don't think that was a bad habit, you don't know how good that crack is.) over Lent. And I don't want to imply that any way of "doing Lent" is wrong or bad, just that I think that at its core, Lent is about making yourself good for God.I grew up Protestant and never did the Lent thing, but then i got to Smith and lots of people, including non-Christians, were doing it or talking about doing it, so it always gets me thinking around this time of year about what the purpose of Lent is within a Christian context and whether it could be spiritually valuable for me. For secular people, i think it's often a trial run (i'll be vegan/vegetarian for 40 days and see how it goes) or is an excuse to give up (even if only temporarily) something they know is bad for them. The above quotation from Ari is the best explanation i have seen of the spiritual purpose of Lent for Christians.
A comment from dlgood reminded me that my understanding of the kosher rules has for a long time been about being aware of God throughout your daily life. (And yes there was much interesting discussion about the kosher rules in Joel's Old Testament class last semester, but this remains my dominant thought about the kosher rules.)
In thinking about Lent, i also find myself thinking about Advent. That same idea of preparing oneself for Christ.
At RCFOS tonight, SarahNewby talked about Lent being a way for us to in some measure share Jesus' 40 days in the wilderness.
I was thinking about which icon to use with this post, and the obvious choice would seem to be the "want to believe" one myska_x made, but "I want to believe" really isn't accurate at all. I was discussing with i think sk8eeyore a while back and saying that honestly, i wanted my academic analyses of Christianity to rip apart the foundations of Christianity so that i could not possibly believe that it was Ultimate Truth because that would be so much easier. If my analysis of the historicity of the Gospel accounts and so on lead me to make that leap of faith that Jesus truly did rise from the dead, then i can't not be a Christian. Then i have to wrestle with all the troubling things Jesus said and did and with all the difficult things in the tradition he came from and with all the difficult things that came from his followers through the ages. But if i can't believe that he truly did rise from the dead, then i can't be a Christian. Then i can say that Jesus and the traditions he came from and the traditions that came after him had some interesting ideas but i can just pick and choose what i like. I am reminded sometimes of how i really am attached to my Protestantism, but there's also so much baggage with the Judeo-Christian tradition and it would be really nice to be able to just pick and choose what i like and not have to somehow reconcile all my problems with the Bible with the idea of it being Revealed Truth (though i know i already do more interpreting than some theological stripes would like).
In contrast, my seminar is currently focusing on issues of authenticity in/and folklore, which is perfectly legitimate given the class, but i'm just not deeply interested. I'm drawn to what causes stories to get told and retold and to the stories themselves and their various incarnations. I'm really interested in the stories themselves in their various forms and not particularly in any "truth" of them (though i am interested in why stories get changed as they get retold).
One of the readings for this week is Chapter 7 (From Fakelore to the Politics of Culture: The Changing Countuours of American Folkloristics) from In Search of Authenticity: The Formation of Folklore Studies by Regina Bendix.
On page 205 she writes: "D. K. Wilgus had argued that folklorists were attracted by the material rather than the processes of folklore, and they 'certainly [did] not need to justify the study of any production of man' (1972:245)"
And on the next page, she quotes Dan Ben-Amos as saying "Traditionality is a temporal dimension of the past, either real, imagined, or projected into expressions, beliefs or behaviors" (Ben-Amos 1979:51; italics belong to Bendix)
And she closes the chapter (217-218) by quoting Nick Spitzer (1992:98-99): "I sometimes think that all people are folklorists of sorts (perhaps one reason the term os widely, loosely, and sometimes maddeningly applied by nonprofessionals) in the sense that we all consciously or unconsciously assess our relationships to cultural tradition through the metaphors we inherit or create. . . . In this view, perhaps cultural conversation is a stronger universal metaphor for our public practice than cultural conservation. In representing ourselves to communities through talk, we learn their meanings and they ours. We negotiate mutual representations in museums or in the media, on the festival stage or in the text. . . . Folklorists can be catalysts with metaphors, methods, theories, and acts that help to achieve a cultural equity that enriches us all."
sk8eeyore mentioned being an Epistles girl versus a Gospels girl, and i thought again of how i think Jesus is central to Christianity and so i'm far more concerned with what Jesus said and did (though obviously these are mediated narratives, etc.) than with what those who had been taught by him said and did. I'm fairly certain i've read the four gospels, but i'm equally certain that i've only dabbled in the rest of the New Testament. I keep meaning to read the whole thing, but i'm oh so much more interested in rereading the Gospels and struggling with Jesus' words than with dealing with the writings of the Church founders.
"True prayer is not about gritting our teeth but about falling in love."
-from Prayer: Finding the Heart's True Home by Richard J. Foster
I know i don't spend nearly enough time talking to/with God, but other than that aspect, i have never understood why/how people talk about prayer being difficult and have always had issues with the idea of intercessionaries. God is always there for you ready to listen. You can always, silently or aloud, say "I'm sorry" or "Thank you" or "I'm confused" or "Please help me" or whatever. Okay, so the idea of actually listening for a response, that's hard too. I find it really easy to talk to God, but that whole "discerning God's path for you" or whatever, yeah, not so much. Ages ago, sk8eeyore quoted Juan Martin Velasco calling the praying attitude, "awareness of the presence of the Mystery and welcoming of its presence." I really like that.
In an old Ash Wednesday post, wisdomeagle wrote, "I love my church, but I hate that they don't have monthly communion. I hate that I never know when I'll next get body and blood. I miss that. I miss feeling holy." I was struck most immediately by the Communion food being called almost literally "body and blood" and also by how powerful Communion was for her. sk8eeyore and i have talked before about Communion, both in the context of church community and when she was reading about eating Jesus. While the readings of the Last Supper story that accompany Communion are very powerful, the actual partaking of Communion is really not powerful for me. I think in part because the food is so insubstantial. I have long wished that we had pita bread or something evoking the unleavened Passover bread instead of regular white bread. (I really liked a few weeks ago at First Churches when we had bread the confirmation class had baked because that was bread to be chewed.) If there were a ritual sacrifice (by which i mean that i'm thinking of how strict Jewish law requires that animals be slaughtered a certain way, with all the blood drained, and the preparation be overseen by a rabbi) and i held flesh in my hands, particularly because i don't normally partake of meat (because of the pain/suffering/death involved), then that would be powerful to me. That would be a powerful reminder of the flesh suffering and sacrifice that Jesus underwent for me personally and for all of humanity. But Communion as is now, just doesn't do it for me. (I've also had Communion at Anglican Mass, and the foodstuffs there also totally didn't do it for me.)
At RCFOS tonight, Joha (sp?) said, of Catholic masses, "You kill Jesus every week." I had forgotten that Catholics have the Eucharist at every Mass.
In a later entry, Ari said: "The chaplain had this to say about Lent: Lent is about learning to view the world through God's eyes. God looks at the whole world with love, and Lent is learning to look at the world the same way."
And her answer to the "Why do you have ashes on your forehead" question is "because I am a beloved and chosen child of God, marked, made, created, and saved by the sign of the cross, because I am a dusty earthy creature and thus marked for death but I am also chosen by God and thus marked by the cross."
And last piece from RCFOS: SarahNewby talked about Layna's idea that God has multiple plans for us, sees many possible paths, that believing God has a plan for us doesn't negate the idea of free will and the belief that we have agency in our own lives.