As Baptists, we’re not really big on celebrating things like Lent. Lent is a traditional season of reflection centred on the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness being tempted by the evil one. It has become a preparation for the events of Easter. Traditionally the day before it begins is celebrated in this country as Shrove Tuesday; the day when people made confession (were shriven) and finished up their eggs and flour by making pancakes. The French call it Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday – when the fat was eaten for the last time before Easter Sunday) and the Italians call it Carnevale (the putting away of flesh). Anyway, you get the general idea that this was to be a period of self -denial to mimic Jesus’ fast in the wilderness. So on Ash Wednesday people covered themselves in ashes as a sign of repentance and fasting.
Now I don’t have a problem with anyone following these kinds of patterns. Many of our brothers and sisters in other denominations find them helpful. The issue for me is being told that you have to do it for a season, and at certain prescribed times. This makes it a religious duty rather than a spiritual exercise; a ceremonial event rather than a relational exercise of the heart. Not to mention that there will be many celebrations of Mardi Gras and Carnival that will not invoke spiritual reflection but something altogether more earthly!
Routines without a purpose are soul-destroying. The reason they make army recruits march around a parade ground is not because they haven’t mastered how to walk; it is to break individuality and instil a sense of obedience to commands and acting together without question. They break people in order to build them up again. Spiritual disciplines are not to be like that. Anything that stops you from thinking and relating personally to our God are a form of abuse. We are not meant to be a bunch of automatons that simply obey without question. God created us to be creative, interdependent unique individuals who belong to Him and each other. That’s very different.
Yet there is great value in developing good habits. Any learning process tends to encourage this. We have been thinking over the last few weeks about cultivating a healthy soul. We often return to this theme of what are known as the ‘spiritual disciplines’ because they are the good habits that we can develop that help us to be healthy spiritually. They encourage the growth of our relationship with the Lord; with others and our own understanding of who we are created to be. So maybe we don’t want to slavishly obey certain rules about when we have to fast or pray or read the Bible; but maybe we do want to develop our own rule of life that helps us to grow spiritually.
Psalm 94:12 says: Blessed is the one you discipline, Lord, the one you teach from your law. Let’s think seriously about how disciplined we are in our spiritual lives – how easily God can teach us from His word.
As we lead up to Easter can I commend to you a production that Churches Together are sponsoring. Riding Lights Theatre Company have been the leading Christian drama company for 40 years. They are performing their passion play Crosslight at the Charis Centre on Friday 24 March. It tells the story of 3 disciples who are confronted by Jesus death. It enables us to reflect on what this means as well. It is suitable for 11s and over and is also a good opportunity to invite non-Christian friends. Find out more on the Riding Lights website, or contact the Church Office for tickets.
Yours in Christ,