While Mardi Gras rocked New Orleans last week, many of us reveled right here in Midtown at traditional Fat Tuesday celebrations at our churches and in our homes. We dined to our content and enjoyed each other’s company.
Then, on Ash Wednesday, we welcomed Lent. The Christian church season is marked by 40 days and nights, excluding Sundays. Traditions of fasting, prayer and good deeds are symbolic of the season.
It’s like a second-coming of New Year resolutions. Lent inspires us to plot and plan our sacrifice, spiritual cleansing and service. We also anticipate our spiritual renewal, just in time for Easter.
For several years now, I’ve tried to make my sacrifice one that requires me to do something or learn something or give something I didn’t think I wanted to do, learn or give. The idea is to give of myself in a way that doesn’t deny me, but gives to someone else and renews my own spirit.
I’m not alone.
“I’m going to do more reading,” said Jan Harris, a Church of the Good Shepherd choir member and long-time parishioner.
Her reading list: books of Lenten meditations. “I hope to get a better understanding and a deeper sense of reverence for myself,” Harris said.
Hunter Sharp, 15, entered Lent excited he’s the youngest member of Church of the Good Shepherd tapped to carry the verge, a staff bearing a small cross, in the service processional. Usually, the role goes to older acolytes or pastors, he said.
“I’ll find the most reflection acolyting and verging,” Hunter said, adding he also plans to take time to pray more often. “I’m going to try to gain something rather than give something up.”
Mary Virginia Swain, a cradle-Episcopalian, kicked off Lent at the chapel at St. Mary’s School, the high school where she works and went to school when it was still a college. In addition to Lenten services on campus, Swain said she’ll also visit Christ Church on Edenton Street and St. James Episcopal Church in Wilmington, her childhood church.
Up until her mother died in 2008, Swain always gave something up for Lent.
“But her death was such a great loss for me that when Lent came around, I decided, ‘I’ve given up enough,’ ” she said. “I’ve instead just tried to be really vigilant with my faith and worship, and my daily practices.
“It is such a time of renewal of the Earth around us as the season changes, a time of renewal of ourselves, and a time of renewal in glory of the church.”
Swain shared with me her plan for Lent 2013: Daily Practices for a Glorious Lent. A friend sent it to her from building faith, an online Christian education community.
The day-by-day list offers things we can “take on or give up” such as forgiving someone, saying grace before meals, donating to charity or cleaning your car, closet or something that is “junked.”
Charity at Cardinal Gibbons
Charity defines Lenten traditions at Cardinal Gibbons High School and underscores the school’s mission to groom students who help, serve and lead, spokeswoman Rachelle Garbarine said.
Students were asked to bring in five cans of food each to be donated to Catholic charities. Over the years, donations have averaged 22 tons, Garbarine said.
Each Friday during Lent, bread bowls of homemade or donated soup will be sold during lunch hours. Proceeds will go to a student-chosen charity. Garbarine said donations average $4,000.
And then on March 12, Cardinal Gibbons students will begin an annual Penny Challenge. In the past, Garbarine noted, proceeds averaging $20,000 to $35,000 have been donated to local, regional and national charities.
The Rev. Miriam Saxon, an associate rector at CGS, has chosen to mix it up a bit with self-examination and repentance.
“This year I’m trying to do intentional eating, smaller portions of everything and try to pay attention to it, my food, instead of eating at my desk,” said Saxon, an associate pastor at Church of the Good Shepherd.
Saxon fasted on Ash Wednesday and will again on Good Friday. She’ll also add evening prayer to her ritual of morning prayer.
“My plan is to take on something positive and take away something negative,” she said. “It’s only 40 days!”
No matter how we do it, it must be with purposeful intention, Rufus Owens, 69, said at the close of Ash Wednesday services at Church of the Good Shepherd.
“That’s what’s important,” he said. “It could be life-changing.”