Today’s post features the Revd Scott A Gunn, an Anglo-Catholic serving in a Midwestern city. He is also the executive director of Forward Movement in the Episcopal Church, a co-author of Faithful Questions: Exploring the Way with Jesus and a religious editorial writer for Fox News.

Last month, I posted his thoughts on respecting the Church calendar.

Scott Gunn loves Lent. What follows are his impressions of Ash Wednesday and the season as a whole.

Before delving further, unrelated to Mr Gunn, this was the street scene in Houston, Texas, last Wednesday. These Episcopal priests are associated with the city’s Christ Church Cathedral. Excellent:

Ash Wednesday

Last week, Scott Gunn was in Tokyo for Ash Wednesday:

He wrote an editorial about Ash Wednesday for Fox News, which was well received:

Excerpts follow from ‘Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent — here’s why it’s important’ (emphases mine):

The name Ash Wednesday comes from the tradition of marking people’s foreheads with ashes in the shape of a cross. The ashes are a sign of our mortality, and they are given with the words, “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.”

At first, it might seem depressing to contemplate our inevitable death. But Ash Wednesday is just the opposite. Today reminds us that our earthly life is very short, but it is a gift from God. We are meant to use this gift well. In that way, Ash Wednesday is hopeful, encouraging, and inviting.

Ash Wednesday, and the whole season of Lent, invites us to turn away from what doesn’t matter and turn toward what does matter. As Christians, that means we recommit to following Jesus and to sharing his love with the world.

For some, that will be a new way of contemplating Ash Wednesday.

He then discusses the spiritual disciplines that characterise Lent:

Lent begins with an invitation. In the Episcopal Church, the invitation tells us how to observe a holy Lent. We do this “by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.”

Self-examination and repentance are counter-cultural. It’s much easier to go through life blaming everyone else and talking about how wrong they are for whatever they did. But Lent invites me to think about the ways I have fallen short, to say I’m sorry. Lent invites me to try again.

I am happy to see that he encourages fasting, accompanied by prayer:

Lent is a time for prayer and fasting. Prayer is pretty common, and most of us know what it is, and we have at least a vague idea of how to go about talking to God this way.

But fasting is much less common. Again, fasting is counter-cultural. In a culture that tells us our worth comes from what we have, we are always urged to acquire and to consume more and more. Fasting means we cut back on the most vital of activities, eating. We might avoid food altogether, or we might severely limit the kinds of foods we eat.

Fasting creates a void of sorts in us. Our hunger reminds us of what we are missing. The awareness of what is missing reminds us that we survive only by God’s steady provision for us. And in this fasting, we are also reminded of suffering — of Christ’s suffering for us and of those who suffer daily due to poverty. Fasting reminds us that the world isn’t about us. Amidst the glitter of this age, fasting teaches us we all need the basic stuff of life, and we all need God.

I was even happier to read that he encourages reading the Bible. There was a time when Episcopalians knew the Bible very well. That’s no longer true.

Therefore, Lent is the perfect opportunity to get reacquainted with the Good Book:

And, finally, we get to my favorite part of the Lenten invitation. We are invited to read and meditate on God’s holy word. Reading the Bible reminds us of God’s vast love for us. From the moment of creation until the end of time, the Bible tells the story of how God desires our redemption.

When we read and meditate on God’s word, we are reminded of where we fit into this love story. In a world that values short-term thinking, the scriptures remind us to think eternally. In a world that tells us to give up when it gets tough, the scriptures remind us that God never gives up on us and we shouldn’t give up on God. In a world that magnifies fear, the scriptures tell us to be fearless. In a world that tells us to look after ourselves, the scriptures remind us to look after others as we seek God.

Ultimately:

Two thousand years ago, Jesus showed us perfect love, in his life, in his death, and in his resurrection. This Lent I want to try to see that perfect love anew, so that I might share it with a world in need of hope, mercy, and grace.

Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. Remember God’s grace, and by grace alone do we all live. Remember.

Lent

On March 1, the First Sunday in Lent, Scott Gunn was in Yangon (Rangoon, in days of yore):

Unfortunately, he had to cut short his stay:

He encouraged the faithful to begin Lenten disciplines, if they hadn’t already done so:

Excerpts follow from his brilliant explanation for Fox News: ‘What is Lent and why does it matter?’

Mr Gunn explains that, as far as he is concerned, Lent is the best season in the Church year for self-examination and self-improvement:

Before I try to convince you that Lent is the best season, let’s review where it came from.

From ancient times, one of the ways Christians prepared for Easter was by providing a time to repent of grievous sins. While that sounds severe, look at it the other way. The church gave people a second (and a third, and a fourth) chance. You could mess up badly and still have an opportunity to make it right.

Lent was also a time for people to prepare for baptism. Those to be baptized had to be taught and prepared. They had to learn the important things about the Christian faith.

Lent has always been about renewal, about second chances, about new life in Jesus through the waters of baptism. Lent has always been about the important things.

Over the centuries, Lent evolved into the season we now keep. Beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting until the week before Easter Sunday, the Lenten season is forty days (excluding Sundays). This echoes the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry.

Indeed, Jesus’s time in the wilderness was the Gospel reading on March 1.

Here is something I did not know:

The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word that means “spring season.”

Spring is a good time to clean not only our houses but also our souls:

Many of us do a spring cleaning of our homes, and I like to think of Lent as a spring cleaning for our souls. You don’t have to be Catholic or to be part of Christian church that observes Lent to make your own journey through the season. Lent can be for everyone. It is, quite simply, a time to remember and to practice the most important things.

There is something to be said for self-denial:

No one should give up something for Lent for the sake of misery itself. Misery is not God’s desire! Instead, we might give things up that take us away from Jesus to make more room for those things that bring us closer to Jesus

In so doing, I am reminded that I depend on God, not on things. In other words, giving things up can help me notice that it’s not all about me.

Some people like to add a new religious activity to their lives during Lent:

Lately, it has become more common to take things on for the season of Lent. People might decide to read the Bible or pray more. But we might also decide to focus on something like forgiveness. How can we practice forgiving others? Who do we need to forgive?

Best of all, Scott Gunn indirectly referred to Jesus’s words to the Pharisee about the greatest Commandment (Matthew 22:37-40) …

37 And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. 38 This is the great and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. 40 On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”

… and Hebrews 13:15-16:

15 Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name. 16 Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.

He wrote of Lenten sacrifices of love:

We have all that we need in God’s grace. We aren’t meant to look after ourselves alone, but rather to offer sacrificial love to our neighbors. We don’t need to fear anything.

Loving God and loving our neighbors are the most important things. And Lent is a wonderful way to remember that life is about love, not about our own desires. Lent is the best season, because it’s all about the best things.

That’s a splendid, positive way of thinking about Lent.