Why are all these folks walking around with ashes on their foreheads? What do Mardi Gras and pancakes have to do with Jesus? What is Lent?
I am not talking stuff you clean off the screen in your dryer - I am talking about 40 days leading up to Easter.
But the question is this: Why should you care?
In these melting-pot days, it is nice to know what your neighbors are doing. Many Christians believe in evolution, study astrophysics and enjoy rock and roll. I invite you to take a field trip through South Pasadena this season and see what everyone is up to.
Each church has its own specific traditions, and not all denominations observe Lent, but in a nutshell, Lent is a time of preparation for Easter.
If you lived in New Orleans or Rio de Janeiro, you would kick this season off with Mardi Gras or Carnival. This is the time to live it up before you give it up. Here in South Pasadena, you are more likely to encounter Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Tuesday. Traditionally, this is the last feast with the yummy ingredients like sugar, eggs or fat before beginning the fast of Lent. Many churches host a pancake dinner this Tuesday night. St. James’ Church is one of them, so go, eat and enjoy.
Next, why the black smudges on everyone’s forehead? Although we might look like extras from Mary Poppins, we have actually just come from church. Ash Wednesday is a day of repentance, when ashes are placed on our foreheads in the sign of a cross, with the words, “Remember, that you are dust, and unto dust you shall return.” (Genesis 3:19) . Many churches have services through out the day on Ash Wednesday. (Before my church-going days, I once thought a co-worker had gotten a tattoo on her forehead.)
Thus begins the 40 days of Lent, which represent the 40 days Jesus went into the desert at the beginning of his ministry to meditate and face his temptations. We take this time for renewal and self reflection. The usual ways are through prayer or meditation, fasting or self denial and almsgiving. If you attend church during this time, you might notice there are no flowers on the altar, and the Alleluias are missing from the service. We are in a quiet time of preparation before Easter.
Many people think of Lent as a time of deprivation, when we give up a favorite thing like wine, sugar, television, etc. But it is also a time of deepening, a time to add a healing or charitable practice to our daily routine.
For example, you can:
Meditate everyday for 15 minutes.
Take a yoga class.
Volunteer at a shelter or food bank.
Join a bible study group or class.
Write letters, or visit long lost friends, relatives or shut ins.
Read the Bible every day.
Give money or, more importantly, time to the poor.
Whether you are Christian or not, these practices are life giving. This is a season of deepening your relationship with God and with our fellow humans.
Every Easter morning, folks show up for their annual visit to church. This year, beat the crowd and check out one of the days leading up to Easter. Witness a foot washing on Maundy Thursday, join in an all night prayer vigil, or celebrate the Great Easter Vigil on Saturday night before Easter Sunday.
There is a six-week Lenten Series that begins this Sunday evening. Six different South Pasadena churches will host a light supper at 6 p.m. followed by a class. The Series is led by Wil Hernandez, Ph. D. on the subject of “Spirituality of Imperfection.”
Here are the series' dates, all on Sundays:
March 13, .
April 3, * (note dinner at 7 p.m.; presentation 7:30 p.m.)
The mathematically minded folks who counted the days from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday probably noticed there are more than 40 days. The six Sundays that fall within Lent are considered mini-Easters and are technically not considered Lent. I love these days, because I can indulge in whatever vice I gave up -- usually wine.
As I said, not all denominations are the same, but on these days, I am very grateful for being an Episcopalian. As I journey along in all my imperfection, I am but dust and I do enjoy my wine ... and my pancakes.