I Want All of the Seasons
I grew up in the American Evangelical church and didn't learn much about the practice of Lent until I went to college. Then, every spring, all of my High Church friends would suddenly stop drinking and smoking, and the cafeteria of our non-religiously-affiliated college would serve some sort of fishy breadstick on Fridays. The campus got strangely studious during those days, except for the distracting conversations about how tough it was to stop drinking and smoking.
Then I attended several Evangelical churches that paid moderate attention to the Liturgical calendar. And I liked that. I liked the way they drew in some global Christian practices and built creative, intentional worship services. I cried at beautifully orchestrated Good Friday services, really cried, and felt moments of eager anticipation in seasons of Advent.
But the ways that Evangelical churches, or at least my experience of them, tend to invite only Advent and Lenten reflections and little else seems decidedly off balance. I’m not really interested in telling you the history of Evangelicalism, except that it’s a fairly new movement in all of the waves of Christianity, and it’s pretty darn American. But of course, I never knew that growing up; I thought I was standing in the longest surviving line of those people really committed to the Bible and living God’s way in a wicked world. Lent, when taken out of context, can be just another way prove that we’re the best.
Evangelical Lent confuses me a bit.
I see all over Facebook the lists of things people are abstaining from or even giving to. But I don’t see the same level of celebration for other church seasons. All I see is this big dramatic one, the ashes and abstinence that serve as public makers of our commitment to faith. It reminds me of growing up in a high-control church, where so many people proclaimed humility, even wrote books on it, while fighting for power. We’re valuing the beat of repentance, even if it’s genuine, more than a healthy understanding of the whole rhythm. It’s starting to sound a bit off.
Evangelicals have picked up this dysfunctional liturgical cycle that involves Advent candles, then Lent, then a single Easter Sunday, and onward to Mother’s Day sermons and 4th of July prayers for our national triumph.
And I want to emphasize that none of those are bad things. Times of silence, fasting, and contemplation can be beautiful spiritual practices, mothers certainly deserve to be celebrated and nations need healing. But I get this sense that practicing Lent out of sync turns into just another thing we do to make God like us more than other people.
We gain more of the social growth than the spiritual.
Maybe my tension is just because I grew up in a high control church environment, so now I'm especially wary of any particular aspect of faith that seems off balance. But I'm nervous about one side of spiritual practice that is emphasized, especially if it's something I have to do. I think some Evangelicals do this with theology, too, like elevating a role-based gender system to the level of "Gospel," but I'm getting side tracked. Lent. We're talking about Lent here.
Lent is important, but I think we need the rest of the Liturgical cycle too. Maybe we should fast from certain substances we rely on, but the point of this season is not a holy sweets and caffeine detox plan. Maybe we absolutely should repent or quiet ourselves, but we have to build that practice into a rhythm that also includes intentional feasting, fifty days of Easter celebration, and plenty of holy Ordinary Time. We can't just take the dark sacrificial time without the rest.
I still have a lot to learn about all of this, but the thing that appeals to me about attention to the full Liturgical Calendar is that it gives us context for all different sorts of experiences. It shows me Jesus in all seasons. It invites reflections on all of the different circumstances of our very complex lives with the same whole engagement. The Christian faith isn’t just one of waiting or suffering or feasting. When we do some without the other, we're missing out.
I see beauty in all of the seasons of the church we observe together as a global community, but mostly that’s because it helps me recognize them when they show up in my week. It helps me remember that God is here. God is real and present in different ways, whichever season I am in. And that’s what I want to practice more than any particular sacrifice because a particular church encourages it: an attention to God’s presence that allows me to fully invest in my every day.