Ash Wednesday and Lent

Thanks to a timely reminder from By Common Consent, I will be celebrating Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, tomorrow. I’ve always meant to celebrate it but always forgot when it was time to do so until half-way through Lent.

Like some Mormons, I’m jealous of other religions who have a liturgical calendar. I consider myself a very spiritual person but I’ve never been good at adhering to strict religious practices within the Mormon church. It may seem strange that a person like me wants a liturgical calendar, but there’s something about a religious structure that reminds you of various religious topics at the same time year after year that become a tradition bigger than itself, and there’s something incredible about a prolonged, shared communal experience (and I’m not talking about those horrible marathon testimony meetings). I do my best to read my scriptures and pray every day, but there’s something said about a portion of the year set aside for the same thing every time which you as a global Church consciously experience.

Maybe I’m a Law of Moses kind of guy. I like daily reminders of the gospel scattered throughout my life. And call me an elitist, but I like cultural markers that help demarcate us from the rest of the world. However, our culture is, when compared to other religions, quite silly. Disaffected Catholics still generally go to church on Easter and Christmas. Disaffected Jews may still gather together for their various feasts and fasts. What do disaffected Mormons do? As Scott B. wonders, “Wouldn’t that just be the nerdiest thing ever if a huge crowd of disaffected Mormons gathered together once a year to celebrate their cultural Mormonism by partying without coffee, tea, and alcohol while consuming ridiculous quantities of Jello and funeral potatoes. They could call it a Linger-Less-Longer.”

So I’ll be borrowing heavily from others’ liturgical calendars this year. The wife and I will probably try and celebrate Passover to the best of our ability, as well as other Jewish holidays. We might even take a stab at Ramadan this year, though we’re both technically not allowed to fast for long periods of time for medical reasons. General Conference is nice, but when it only comes twice a year, with large gaps in between lacking of any regular, yearly important dates of purely Mormon celebration (with the exception of Pioneer Day, which I don’t celebrate as it’s not really a part of my actual heritage and the wife’s hatred for anything folksy pioneer-y), sometimes you feel disconnected from the greater communal experience.

And for those who are wondering, I’m giving up eating out for Lent this year.

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5 Comments

Filed under life stories, religion

5 responses to “Ash Wednesday and Lent

  1. I really do like going to General Conference, not just watching it. I think it’s because of that community aspect. Even if the speaker is boring, I like to look around at the huge audience and wonder what the pioneers would think if they could see the church now. And I love standing up for the prophet, and the communal glee everyone seems to feel when the prophet is nearby. I still remember when President Hinckley visited BYU, and left via a car behind the JKHB. I was in a German class, where the windows were pointed right at that car and in the middle of the lecture, someone yells “It’s President Hinckley!” and the entire class (professor included) rushes to the window to gawk and wave and giggle when he waves back.

    I think we do have those Mormon symbols that are universally recognized. They aren’t events like Lent or Passover, but I think they can be just as powerful. When I was in England, our study abroad group made a stop in Preston and we stayed at the temple lodgings. I remember walking into the building, seeing the dusty rose color scheme, the pictures on the wall, the soft lighting and smelling that just-vacuumed-carpet church-building smell. After spending so much time in a stressful (but fun) foreign experience, I was completely overwhelmed with the feeling of being at home. I’d never expect that from a place that felt like a Stake Center, but the church is my home. We may not have pre-determined community calendars where we all observe our sameness at the same time, but we are always Mormon. I know when I run into another Mormon on some random message board, there’s instant solidarity. We don’t need a designated week during the year to feel connected to the community.

    I think the silly markers of our culture are just the insignificant surface things. We all joke about it, but how often do we really eat green jello with shredded carrots? I don’t think we lack for cultural markers that set us apart, and I think only a small portion of those are silly. Another England story: I was with a group in Nuneaton, wandering around the small town trying to find the library. We turned a corner and right in front of us was an LDS chapel. It was instantly recognizable, like most things Mormon. Church buildings, missionaries, temples… I don’t think we are lacking for cultural markers that help demarcate us from the rest of the world.

    Interesting topic, it obviously gave me a lot to think about. After three paragraphs of stream-of-consciousness writing somewhat related to your post, I think I’ll stop.

  2. Ted

    Appreciate the insight, something I hadn’t considered while writing.

    I will definitely agree we have culture, and perhaps my flippant remark of describing our culture as “silly” was off the mark. There is certainly a community experience in the Church – otherwise, most of us would have floated out of it by now. I guess the type of community culture I am speaking of is a more measured communal culture as found in a liturgical calendar. For example, our American culture is reinforced regularly through holidays. Thanksgiving and Christmas are often hallmarks of the American family experience, as well as other holidays such as Labor Day, the Fourth of July, New Years, Valentine’s Day, Veterans Day, Memorial Day, and in some cases, the more “minor” holidays, such as St. Patrick’s Day, Presidents Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Flag Day, and so forth. The passing of each month heralds some new aspect of American life to be recognized and celebrated and meditated on.

    However, aside from General Conference, and for some, fast and testimony meeting and maybe the 5th Sunday of the month, there aren’t any regular markers of time which help us to focus on the gospel life and perhaps Mormon community as a whole. It would be neat if, as a Church, we had a designated 45 days in which we sacrificed something, devoted more time to an activity, or so forth. Something more uniform than what we have now. As a non-conformist, it’s rare for me to wish for something like this, but sometimes, I wish we had a more “Mormon” way of marking the passage of time in our lives.

  3. I personally don’t think we need to put any more restrictions on ourselves than we already have. Do we really need 45 days in which we sacrifice something else? We already abstain from so many things on a regular basis–coffee, alcohol, smoking, tank tops, bikinis, caffeine, taking our shirts off at BYU football games, gambling, excessive amounts of red meat, Sunday brunch at IHOP, profanity, tattoos, piercings beyond a modest pair of earrings, rated-R movies, sex (before marriage of course), heck, even technically passionate kissing. At least, we are supposed to be abstaining from most of these (a few of those are up for debate, but you get my point).

    I understand what you are getting at with the holidays. It would be cool to have more recognized Mormon holidays. But, honestly, we do have one–Pioneer Day–and you don’t even like it! I think it would be much more fascinating to see you go through Mormon History and mark off significant days in our own culture and then put them on your calendar. That way, you can periodically be reminded to recognize, celebrate, and meditate on the religion you have dedicated your life to.

    Anyway, good luck with Lent. I have a hard enough time keeping myself doing what Mormons are supposed to do, let alone adding something CRAZY like not eating out for 45 days! 😉

  4. Sidney Carton

    I don’t know Ted, I have a hard enough time dealing with remembering that it’s Fast Sunday again, much less having to worry about Lent.

    Perhaps it’s just a Brazilian thing, but when I was down there, Lent was prepared for by Carnaval, so one gave something up after participating in a week long orgy to get it out of your system. (They would blindfold the Cristo Redentor “Christ the Redeemer” statue over Rio de Janeiro during Carnaval as if to argue that everything done during that period had a blind eye turned toward it in order to make the sacrifices of Lent possible. That said, I freely admit that my experiences in Brazil give me a jaundiced eye toward Lenten observance, there is much to be gained from some self-abnegation as well. Good luck.

  5. rob biornstad

    Ted: Kong-ju and i ran into you tonight at the eagle court of honor for somerset ward. When I got home I was attempting to find the korean branch pictures your dad posts up and ran across your site. Noting your jewishness i offer up a blogspot for you to consider. Sis Marlena Baker a jewish convert that attends our ward (May Creek) also puts out a biweekly email. Very interesting stuff to those who want to know more about their ancient heritage.

    http://comeuntochrist.blogspot.com/

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