By Rev. Dr. Ed Hird
The forty day warm-up for Holy Week and the Easter season is known as Lent, an ancient word for ‘spring’. Some people have not heard of Lent, but know about Mardi Gras, which in English is Fat Tuesday. Certain places like New Orleans and Rio are famous for celebrating Mardi Gras. The original purpose of Mardi Gras was to consume all the luxuries like eggs by making pancakes, so that Lent could be a time of balance and moderation.
Similar to how people go in training for an upcoming marathon, Lent is spiritual training for Easter. For things in life to be really enjoyed, it usually takes preparation and anticipation. So what does Lent have to do with flossing one’s teeth? There are six Lenten disciplines that help people prepare for Easter: 1) Prayer 2) Fasting 3)Self-examination 4) Repentance 5) Bible-reading 6) Generosity to the poor. These six Lenten disciplines are not meant to be done only during Lent, but rather especially through Lent. If one only flosses one’s teeth for forty days of the year, their dentist will not be pleased. The purpose of doing something for forty days in a row is to develop new good habits, whether one is going to the gym or changing one’s diet.
Many people believe that prayer is a good thing. Lots of Canadians pray when they are in crisis. But prayer is most effective when it is done daily, in season and out of season, just like with flossing one’s teeth. For many years, I had a mental block about flossing my teeth. I didn’t like how my gums would bleed afterwards. To impress my dentist, I compromised by flossing just before my dental appointments. As dentists can tell the difference, I am sure that my half-hearted flossing impressed no one. Only when I adopted flossing as a daily discipline did my gums stop bleeding, and my dental care improve. Years later, I now floss religiously, first thing in the morning. My teeth don’t feel right until I have flossed.
If I had waited until I was in the mood for flossing, I would still be avoiding the discipline of flossing. That is why I am calling flossing a Lenten discipline. Flossing gets me in shape, just like prayer, fasting, self-examination, repentance, bible-reading and generosity to the poor. I don’t always feel like doing any of them, but I become a healthier person when I discipline myself in these patterns. How many people realize that fasting, while initially uncomfortable, can be a key to major spiritual breakthrough? A while ago I wrote about BJ McHugh, an eighty-seven year old marathoner. She tells me that she doesn’t always feel like getting up in the morning and going for a run. Because she disciplines her body, she was able to recently run in the Hawaii Marathon with her son and granddaughter. God wants to renew our youth like an eagle, but we need to co-operate by practicing healthy daily discipline.
Self-examination is another vital Lenten discipline. It is so easy to deceive ourselves that everything is okay. Self-examination shows us where we need to change, perhaps by cutting back on the carbs or by getting out walking on a daily basis. Repentance is about facing the facts about one’s self, the good, the bad and the ugly, and being willing to make systemic painful changes. Perhaps there is someone that we need to forgive whom we have been holding a grudge against. Lent is a good time to reconcile with that person and perhaps even make amends. Everyone believes in forgiveness until it comes time to do it. Forgiveness is a painful part of repentance.
Bible-reading is another vital Lenten discipline. Most Canadians have a bible somewhere in their home, perhaps handed down from their parents or given to them by the Gideon’s. Most Canadians have floss somewhere in their house. Only when we start using the floss, only when we start reading our bibles does anything change. I was raised in a generation that believed that if it feels good, you do it. If I wait until I am in the mood for flossing or bible-reading, my gums will recede and my bible will stay dusty. Discipline saves us from the folly of good intentions.
Canadians are some of the most generous people on earth. Our Judeo-Christian heritage encourages people to be cheerful givers, knowing that it is more blessed to give than to receive. Only the generous are really satisfied with their lives. The more greedy we are, the more grumpy we become. Don’t wait until you are in the mood to be generous to the poor. Don’t wait until you are in the mood to floss your teeth. My prayer for those reading this Lenten article is that we might grow in generosity, in prayerfulness, in bible-reading in ways that will make us all more healthy.
The Rev. Dr. Ed Hird, BSW, MDiv, DMin
-an article previously published in the Deep Cove Crier/North Shore News
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