Tuesday, February 16, 2010

3 S's of Lent

One of the ways I unwind at the end of the day, is to watch the TV game 'Wheel of Fortune.' It is that show where the contestant tries to figure out the answer to an event, a place, a person, a phrase, by picking letters to fill in the blanks of the answer. If you watch it often enough, you can sometimes get a 'clue' as to what the answer might be depending on the day the game is broadcast, the city in which they are playing, the season of the year, and so on. For instance, when the show was in Boston recently, a lot of the answers had to do with Boston-related places, people, events.

So, if the game was being played today, and the puzzle had to do with an event, and the blanks were _ _ _  _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ and I was a contestant, I would probably choose the letter S to start the round, hoping that the answer is Ash Wednesday.

S is one of the key letters to understanding that puzzle we call Lent.  In the classic sense, it points us to the Self, to that sin, to that habit, to that way of life, to that burden we would like to get rid of during the journey with Jesus to Jerusalem. For most folks, it means some form of self-denial: trying to once again give up smoking, making that pledge to ignore all the chocolate that is conveniently placed at the checkout in the store, spending less time on the computer. For others, it may mean adding something to our daily life: ten minutes set aside for prayer; reading through the gospels each day; picking up a devotional book to read, rather than the latest romance or lurid thriller.

Whether we give up something for Lent, or take on something for the season, it still means making a Sacrifice. Unfortunately, the 'sacrifices' we make for Lent often turn out to be like those resolutions we make each January 1st - long on possibility but all so short on fulfillment.  I can give up chocolate (honest!), but of course, as you know, the Sundays of Lent are considered to be feast days not fast days, and so I can feast on chocolate that day, can't I? And Monday comes around and I am back where I started before Lent.

So, perhaps instead of thinking so much about myself and what I am sacrificing for the good of the cause, I should think more about others, about those who could use more than token gestures, but could use some practical help in their lives; about those who truly hunger, not go without a sugar fix; about those who could use the justice, the peace, the hope of God in their lives. Maybe I need to think less of Self, and more about Service.

It would only take me five minutes a day to write a short note to someone whom I know is hurting, lonely, grieving, afraid, to let them know I am thinking of them, and praying for them. Better yet, it would probably only take that long to make a phone call! It would only take a half-hour out of my day to tutor at a local school, the same amount of time I spend watching the 'wheel.' It would only take about 10 minutes and about $20 to go through the grocery store, fill up a bag with non-perishables and take it to the food pantry. It would only take my willingness, that's all.

S is one of the key letters to understanding this puzzle we call Lent.

This year I hope the answer, for me, is Service.

© 2010 Thom M. Shuman

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