Ash Wednesday, Part the First…

Southern Baptist born, Southern Baptist bred, I’ve never done the whole Lent thing before. The most attention I ever paid to such matters was during the two years we lived in New Orleans. I paid attention to Ash Wednesday then because it was the day after Mardi Gras and a great day off from school.

Last year on Ash Wednesday, I took our students from church to see The Passion of the Christ, and I remember going to eat afterwards, seeing many people with the ashes on their forehead, and trying to explain to our Southern Baptist born, Southern Baptist bred students what that was all about.

Today, however, has been different. If there was ever a time in my life I felt the need for repentance, refocusing, and renewal, now is one of those times.

Like I said, my tribe never “celebrated” Lent, (do you “celebrate” Lent? Maybe “commemorate” or “observe” might be better?) so I really don’t even know where or how to start. On my way to the office this morning, I pulled into the parking lot of the big Catholic Church across the street, hoping to see some notice of an Ash Wednesday observance or whatever. No cars in the lot, but they are going to have a fish fry every Friday during Lent. I saw the banner advertising that! They also cancelled all “religious education classes” for the day, according to their message board. Nothing about Ash Wednesday or anything though.

I thought about calling my friend Revdude, because he, being a Methodist and all, would likely have some profound insight into the whole Lent thing. But I figured it was too early in the morning.

I tried to find “The Boy’s” eighth-grade history teacher, who is now the rector of a local charismatic Episcopal church, with no success.

So I went into my office, pulled out the Book of Common Prayer (shhhhh…I won’t tell the folks in Nashville or Atlanta if you won’t!) and looked up the order of worship (see how Baptist I am – most folks who know any better call it the “liturgy,” right?) for Ash Wednesday. Pretty good stuff!

That led me to Google for “Lent” and “Ash Wednesday.” I found the Lenten Calendar at Simple Living. Its focus this year is on hunger. I looked up the scriptures they provided and found Matthew 6:1 and Isaiah 1:15-17.

So now I’m on a quest, a mission, if you will, to learn a little more about things liturgical, especially as relates to Ash Wednesday and this whole Lent thing. So far, I’ve found some neat stuff in Dorothy C. Bass’s Receiving the Day: Christian Practices for Opening the Gift of Time and Robert E. Webber’s Ancient-Future Time. Maybe I’ll post some more from those in a while.

To wind up this long and tedious post, though, I will say this: What I have re-discovered is that God is not particularly interested in our outward observances, no matter how great or moving or emotional or whatever we think they are. He is ultimately interested in whether or not we are living for Him with our whole hearts and whether or not we are putting that wholehearted devotion into practice via loving, compassionate service to those around us. it’s not so much about “giving up” as it is about “giving out.” Maybe this little trip into Liturgical Calendar Land wil help me re-focus my life around that overarching principle.