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Beauty for Lenten Ashes
Keep your eyes unwaveringly on Jesus during Lent.
Bonnie McMaken | posted 3/08/2011
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Look Forward

Just as we don't stand alone in our sin during Lent, the season itself is not isolated. It wasn't arbitrarily thrown into the church year. Orthodox theologian Alexander Schmemann, in his book Great Lent, says that the church seasons, especially Lent, "help us recover the vision and the taste of that new life which we so easily lose and betray, so that we may repent and return to it."

Lent helps us return to Jesus. Although it can be a deep time of reflection and contemplation on its own, it serves a greater purpose. Schmemann also says, "Lent is a spiritual journey and its destination is Easter, the 'Feast of Feasts.' "

Because Lent pulls us upward to Jesus, it also pulls us forward to Holy Week, when we see our Savior's sacrifice most vividly through his death on a cross and his victory over death. Humbling ourselves through this 40-day season allows us to be ready for the intensity of Holy Week and the exhilaration of the Resurrection.

Look Outward

Lent pulls us upward to Jesus and forward to meet the crucified and risen Lord during Holy Week, but it also pulls us outward, to the body of believers surrounding us. Lent is part of the church year, the word church being vital in this spiritual journey.

We cannot and should not observe Lent on our own. As a rule, we're pretty bad at dealing with our own sin. We like to hide it or run from it, but it will always nip at our heels. To truly deal with the reality of sin, we need to practice confession. This is the discipline of allowing another Christian to know the darkness in our hearts and to minister forgiveness through Christ. Only by telling someone else about our sin do we actually walk in the light of Jesus' grace.

Observing Lent as the church, and not just as individuals, also helps us avoid what author and teacher Leanne Payne calls the "disease of introspection," or constant self-focus. Just as looking upward and forward shows us who we really are—frail and forgiven—opening our eyes to the sin of humanity and the sins of others allows us to be more compassionate persons, capable of walking alongside others as they confess and seek forgiveness.

Fasting Helps Us See

Lent allows us to see ourselves and one another in all our sin and brokenness. It's usually not a pretty picture, our unveiled selves. We're often able to cover this raw image with addictive behaviors, busy lives, and ministry. The point of Lent, though, is to strip us of trappings, even some good ones, in order to see our need for mercy and to turn our eyes upward, forward, and outward.

The spiritual discipline of fasting has been the primary way the church has observed Lent over the centuries. When we give up something for this season, large or small, we mirror Jesus' journey into the wilderness for 40 days as we take on our own spiritual wilderness of sorts.

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