Lent began today, barely eliciting a ripple in my ecclesiatical tradition. We don't do Lent. Too Catholic for our Evangelical Protestantism. I'm afraid we've thrown the baby out with the bath water. But last year I observed Lent for the first time. It enhanced me experience of Easter, making me more mindful of its steady appraoch and preparing my heart for its rich celebration. I wanted to do it again this year.
Recently, I started reading a wonderful book by Margaret Feinberg entitled Wonderstruck. This lead me to her blog, where I read a post in which she discussed how she had decided to observe Lent this year. This from her blog post:
“As I’ve prayed this year, I’ve sensed the need to dive back into the Scriptures anew. As I’ve asked God what to read - Gospels, Epistles, Psalms, Prophets, Wisdom Literature, or Pentateuch -I’ve had this sense that I’m supposed to read “The Book.”
Not a smidgen or section or style of Biblical writing. But. The. Whole. Entire. Book.
In 40 Days. That’s forty. F-o-r-t-y. 4-0. Days.”
Wow. Her words reflect my thoughts, stumbling over the “forty.” That’s a chunky book to plow through in under six weeks. Me with the nightstand stacked with toppling books in various stages of completion. I have a self-diagnosed narrow sliver of ADD that relates specifically to my reading habits. I read little bits of lots of books. At any one time I may have a dozen or two books in the works. I’ll read a handful of them each night, a smattering of pages in each. I like the variety, even if it takes me months to get through a modest sized book. I have the library fines to prove it. The three-week lending period is rarely enough for me to finish the book, and I am woefully negligent in my renewals. I hardly read anything in forty days – let alone the Bible, the biggest book I’ve ever read.
Last year I was a Lenten neophyte. My commitment was to a stumbling practice of fasting that was modest but richly rewarding. This year I can’t claim to a novice anymore. Now I am a Lenten sophomore and it is widely known that a sophomore is a wise fool. That seesaw may be a bit over weighted on the foolish side. Just enough so that I decided to join Margaret in her Lenten commitment. I may have bitten off more than I can chew. The typical eyes-bigger-than-my-belly mistake.
But I am intrigued by the prospect of replacing Lenten fasting with feasting on God. This will be a Scriptural smorgasbord, an abounding banquet table full of God-breathed cuisine. Some bites will be bland, others spicy. Some will be chewy and go down hard, others will be sweet and leave me longing for more. One thing is certain, this will not be fast food, gobbled in haste while multitasking through the meal. For about an hour a day I will sit and read the Word without distraction (as much as possible in a house with four children).
I mentioned this commitment to my small group this past week. If I was looking for encouragement, I came up short. They looked at me as if I had just announced that I intended to swim the Atlantic. “You’ll still be working during those forty days, right?” Yes. And sleeping, and eating, and showering, and taxiing my children to karate and youth group and school activities, and teaching the teens twice a week, and working out, and (hopefully) sledding and snowshoeing, and even spending time with my wife. It’s a lot to cram into a day. But in the end, it's just a matter of priorities. Will God get my firstfruits or my leftovers.
Lent is typically a season of deprivation. Something is given up. But instead of subtracting I have chosen to add. Of course, to balance the equation, something must be removed. My day will not stretch to 25 hours for the next six weeks. So even while the deprivation is not center stage in my Lenten commitment, it does play a part. It may implicit and behind the scenes, but keeping up with progress through Scripture will demand that some things will be knocked below the priority threshold. Some combination of less sleep, less leisure reading, less television, and less web surfing should open up the space to stay on track. But this will play itself out daily, finding the time to be true to the commitment I have made.
One thing I hope not to cut is writing. In fact, I hope to write regularly throughout this Lent about the experience. I may not post everyday, but at least a few times a week I hope to post short snippets about what I am learning through the process. The 66 books of the canon is a lot of input. I'll need an outlet.
So it begins today with Genesis. I’m ready for a mouthful. I’ll keep the Pepto handy.