Thursday, February 23, 2012

Happy Lent

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.  Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal.  But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." - From The Book of Common Prayer, Ash Wednesday, 2012 (Matthew 6:16-21)

photo from blog "liturgical time"
Happy Lent everyone!  Last year, I gave up movies for Lent and was very cranky.  Hardest thing I've ever done, probably, and a HUGE lesson for me in the nature and purpose of fasting.  This year, I don't feel a particular pull towards any specific Lenten sacrifice.  Maybe hot air balloon rides?  Maybe group sex in public parks?...or inappropriate jokes?

Growing up, I spent most of my time attending "non-denominational" Christian churches with my mom and missed out on a lot of the the more ancient church-calendar practices of the Catholic and more traditional protestant churches.  As an adult, I've developed a sense of curiosity and respect for the mysticism and tradition of these practices and am still learning a lot about what's behind the thinking of something like Lent, for example.  Today I discovered Liturgical Time, a blog that tracks and illuminates the church calendar.  There's a great deal of peace and reassurance for me in following the footsteps of this cycle of meditation, grace, and mercy.  

There's something artistic and uncanny about Lent, and the church calendar, and indeed about church.  But Lent in particular, for me, is a creative act; a time of gestation and preparing the soul to be receptive.  For me, the season of Lent is a sense of smouldering embers, suppressed desire, boiling water stirred up and seasoned tightly under a lid (as my acting teacher might say), and of really facing truths that might be hard to look at.  

A friend of mine recently told me that one reason he no longer participates in the church is because of an involuntary epiphany he had one day.  Already an actor, he attended service and found himself looking at it from a professional theatrical point of view.  Like always, he saw priests and volunteers wearing costumes, standing on a stage, following a script, using music and cues, telling a story based on a book.  With a sudden, life-altering smack, he concluded that church is basically the same as the theater - all a big show.  He went on to conclude, differently than me, that it must be a fiction.  

I see his point, I really do.  There's an element of religion that's mass manipulation (pun intended), where church assumes the role of a big business playing and preying on peoples' senses of conscience and dignity, family and guilt to take advantage of them financially and, worse, spiritually.  I do see what my friend means about churches seeming an awful lot like theater - there's music and performance, the leaders use public speaking techniques to manipulate their audiences (sorry, I mean, congregations), and the entire teaching and message is part of a narrative/story that some argue is created, not divine.  I get it.  Sure.  A good church service - or any public event - will most likely follow Freytag's pyramid of dramatic structure, just like a good play or a good calendar year.  And I'm not going to say it's always a great thing that churches put on a show, but for me, in general, the theatrical elements of church can make it all the more beautiful. Indeed, I go to theater for much the same reason that I go to church - to experience the truth, to enter a no-bullshit zone where I can make some sense and possibly even some joy out of being human.  We can know God (I believe) as easily in a black-box or the subway as in a pew.

And if church is like theater, the church calendar spells out it's dramatic structure.  Lent is sort of the climax.  In Christian terms, it's the crucifixion - and now, everything is waiting for the denouement, the surprise reversal of Christ's resurrection.  But for now, the shit has hit the fan in Lent.  We have to deal with being human.  The beauty of believing in God is that our story doesn't end there.  Being human isn't limited by our humanness, but rather transcended and set free in infinity.  All of it is building, building, building....waiting, waiting, waiting...

"Remember you are dust and unto dust you shall return."  It's theater at it's best.  And then some.


  1. This is good stuff.

  2. Thanks Travis and Chad! Thank you for reading! Wishing you both the loveliest of Lents, in our various corners of our shared Del Norte diaspora. Glad you're there, Chad, to keep the trees alive.