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Thoughts on Lent

For the western Christian tradition (all those who are not Greek or Russian Orthodox, etc.), this week brings us the season of Lent.  As usual, my childhood memory of Lent is non-existent.  Basically, Quakers did not observe Lent.  It is not so much that we were against it as that it was not necessary.  Quakers are a funny bunch.  At least originally, they sought to be serious about their faith on a daily basis.  I still find that laudable.  So it meant they were not inclined to set aside days and periods when a Christian should be more serious and others days and seasons when they could lighten up.

On the surface, I still agree with my Quaker heritage.  However, I also know the downside of that heritage is that it could produce the sour, dour Quaker who took everything so seriously that there was no longer any spice to life.  There was no reason to laugh and, maybe even, celebrate things.  To be chronically serious is probably neurotic or worse.  So I have tried to give up that part of being Quaker!

But when you do that, Lent makes sense in that way I think the larger Christian world understands it.  So I try to participate at that level.  I also appreciate this is a thing Christians do that has a similarity in other major religious traditions.  Ramadan, for example, is the Muslim month-long fasting period, which has early roots in Islamic history.  Not to eat from sunup to sundown, as the Muslim does, is challenging.  Probably most Christians do not face a comparable challenge in his or her Lenten resolution.

But this meditational reflection is not so much about me as about some other significant ones whom I watched on Wednesday---the beginning of Lent.  I went to an Ash Wednesday service, which is an ecumenically sponsored event with our College Chaplain and the Newman Center, the Catholic campus ministry.  It was a meaningful experience, which culminated in most of those in attendance marching to the front of the chapel for the “imposition of ashes.”

I had ashes “imposed” on my forehead.  I had been marked!  Clearly, now I was identifiable as a Christian…at least for that day.  My Jewish sisters and Muslim brothers were not so marked.  I must admit (and maybe it is my Quaker uneasiness) that I am not quite sure what to do with it now that I have a marked forehead.  It makes me a little self-conscious.  That in itself is an interesting spiritual issue.

And later that day it hit me.  I went to a meeting with a bunch of coaches for a program I had organized.  For a while I forgot about Ash Wednesday.  And then a new coach walked in and she had the ashes on her forehead.  She was marked!  I knew nothing of her story.  But I was impressed.  I do not know her very well.  But there she was with those ashes on her forehead.  What a witness!

I have no idea what she felt or thought.  And perhaps, it did not even matter.  She did it.  I can guess most of her new friends did not know this spiritual aspect about her.  And I was proud of her.  She stood for something and was willing to show it.  It is different than wearing a cross as a piece of jewelry or the Star of David (although this takes more gumption).  Wearing ashes on your forehead is not “fashionable.”

So this coach became “more” in my mind (and this sounds like I had thought of her as “less”).  The “more” she became had nothing to do with the fact that she coaches one of our sports.  It had everything to do with her faith, witness, commitment, and spirit.  And in many ways I don’t know the “details” of her faith, witness, commitment or spirit.  But I am sure there is significant content which I can learn and appreciate.

She became a teacher for me.  She is a model now.  I can be a spiritual wimp.  It makes me smile once again at the spiritual irony of life.  Yet again, young teach the old.  And I am grateful.

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