Tomorrow is the day when we begin to live without whatever it is we’re giving up for Lent. If we observe Lent, that is. Not everyone does. In fact, I am an unofficial Lent convert, a tag-along Lenten follower, as I grew up in a church that is, if we are to put it mildly, rather opposed to the Catholic Trappings of the High Church.
But of course this bit of personal history has not stopped me from dabbling in the Episcopal arts or furtively memorizing bits of the BCP–that’s the Book of Common Prayer for all you non-Anglicans, non-Catholics, non-Episcopalians. For all of you who are what I once was: non-liturgical. Non-liturgical. That’s a fancy way of saying that all the standing-sitting-kneeling-standing-crossing-genuflecting of the Episcopalians (and Anglicans and Catholics) is absent. It’s a way of saying that the icons, crucifixes et al are missing as well. Not that you miss them, or that they’re really ‘missing.’ I just mean, they’re not there.
But for my part, I do miss them, and I go out of my way once in a while to find them, to make sure that all of those Catholic Trappings my ancestors of Alabama were warned about and eventually fled, abandoned for the more jubilant Pentacostalism, are still there, and that the language–especially the language–is the same and I am part the service, part of the Words and the Forms and the Genuflection.
Tomorrow, the first day of Lent, I will be at the church of my choice, at St. John’s Episcopal, receiving the Ashes of Rememberance and bowing before a great and humbling tradition that becomes miraculous, becomes sacred. For those of us who grew up in the American Evangelical Tradition, be that Assemblies of God, Christian Missionary Alliance, Vineyard, what have you, this turning toward the High Church Mysteries, the Catholic Trappings with all of its hyper-tradition, represents something the gymnasium-church could never offer, and frankly never wanted to and certainly never tried. It represents holiness on par with the saints; I am not saying we are holier than thou, or that we are saintly to attend an Episcopal Ash Wednesday mass, but the opportunity to bow, to recite and to act as one, one body, one bread, one blood, one cup is to find oneself not alone, undisjointed.
When I ask for the Ashes tomorrow and accept that I can do nothing without God, can live no righteous life without faith and can live nothing but a life of sin except that He redeems me, I will also ask to be a part of the mystery, a part of a beauty I do not understand but yearn for. This yearning is part of my Fat Tuesday, part of my indulgence before the repentance. It is what I wish to hold on to, and to not give up on despite the pared-down services, the Baptist simplicity, and the non-liturgical life I must lead in a regular daily way.
Rarely are we born into the exact world in which we perfectly fit, and so, knowing this to be (even partly) true, I turn myself tomorrow toward the crucifix, toward the time of darkness and begin to understand about deliverance and sacrifice in a way that I can appreciate and understand better because I was not born into it. My appreciation for the Ashes and the memorized bits of the BCP do not alienate me from my non-liturgical past, but rather confirm it, as I would not have sought these holy spaces, these sacred words had I not had some inkling, some idea that they were possible or meaningful or necessary.