Three Lenten items, today, friends:

Giving Up Lent for Lent, by Diana Butler Bass is an odd piece of writing in that she makes the obvious point about how we need to let go of certain things to grow spiritually:

When we cling tightly to our own desires, we struggle and suffer. When

we let go of these desires, God can move us toward deeper spiritual

understanding and compassion.

Okay, but she learned this somehow from "giving up Lent for Lent a few years ago." How, I am not sure. I can see why someone might appreciate some new things from fresh angles and taking a new tack. But she was hardly giving up something like one of those desires she refers to above. Now a friend of hers did look forward to Lent, so it would have applied to him. But Lent for her:

Since Lent starts with a morbid reminder of human mortality – “remember

you are dust and to dust you shall return” – I always wondered if [my friend] needed therapy more than ashes on his forehead. As Christmas faded into

fond memory, I dreaded Lent’s approach. Only it stood between Easter

and me. Forty days of guilt whenever I ate chocolate.

A few years ago, I stopped struggling with my bad attitude toward Lent.

I gave up Lent for Lent. I skipped Ash Wednesday, made no promises to

God, and instituted no rigorous prayer schedule. I wanted to enjoy one

March with no onerous spiritual obligations.

It seems she was only giving up something onerous. Which is usually

easy to do. Since God loves a cheerful giver, if you’re grumbling

through Lenten

observances, it’s probably best to give it a rest; talk to a spiritual

advisor, too. (It’s best not to go it entirely alone.)

When I gave up Lent for Lent, it become clear that I needed to give up

the idea that certain religious disciplines would bring me closer to

God.

This

is true: A discipline won’t bring you closer to God. Only God can bring

you closer to Himself. What the discipline is meant to do is to help

you get yourself, your ego, out of the way so you are open to His

grace. I do believe in mortification by works: "Mortify your earthly

members," writes Paul. It’s not God’s job to do that for me–thought

sometimes we are mortified, or chastened, apart from our intentions.

Anyway, it’s a bit confusing, but you might recognize a struggle or

question in there of your own, if not good answers.

Another blog, Gethsemane,

by Canadian writer David Warren (thank you, Joseph Letendre), is much

more helpfully Lenten. He embraces what seems to me to be the true

spirit of Lent:

There are sobering features in the season of Lent, in the forty days

and nights of Christ’s wandering in the wilderness, and in

commemorating a path that can only lead from Ash Wednesday, through

Gethsemane. To the Christian view, that is earthly life. The fact of

our own death is before us, and the reality of the Crucifixion can

never be dismissed. We offer, “blood, toil, tears, and sweat,” together

with the joy of salvation. Only through that portal, only in the

knowledge that “we owe a death”, can we glimpse an eternity that is not

false. This is written in the very words of the Lord’s Prayer, uttered

daily by every Christian. In praying, “Thy will be done,” we’re

inevitably praying for a good death. And not necessarily for a painless

one.

I

recommend the whole article. He doesn’t miss the joy, either, by the

way. We Orthodox call it the "bright sadness" of the fast before Pascha.

And finally, this is a bit off the usual track, but Bobby Winters wrote me:

Last night I went to the worst Ash Wednesday service I’ve been to since I started attending. This link would’ve been better.

It’s Johnny Cash’s Hurt.