Today is Ash Wednesday. Before I spent eight years in Louisiana, I would not even have known what Ash Wednesday was. I grew up in the Bible belt, so I knew plenty of Baptists, a few Methodists and Presbyterians, perhaps, but not many Catholics.
The first spring I spent in Louisiana, I was genuinely puzzled to hear all the talk of Lent. Lent? Lent? Who celebrates Lent? So I started asking around, talking to friends, asking them what Lent was and what it was for. They were always taken aback by my ignorance—assuming that as someone who spends a LOT of time doing church stuff—Christian church stuff—I had no excuse to not know what Lent was. But I did have an excuse.
I am Mormon.
We don’t do anything special for Epiphany, Lent, Pentecost, Palm Sunday, Ash Wednesday, Shrove Tuesday, or Mardi Gras (even now, I’m getting these all in the wrong order, huh).
I don’t know why we don’t, but we don’t. Mormons are always whining that other Christian denominations don’t accept us as Christians, but we don’t do a lot of stuff that most other Christians do. We don’t display crosses anywhere—in our scriptures, in our chapels, in printed materials, or on jewelry. (If you’re curious, the rationale for that is that we choose to focus on the resurrection and atonement rather than the crucifixion, and the cross represents the crucifixion.) We don’t believe in the Apostles’ Creed or the Nicene Creed and we don’t recite the Lord’s Prayer during our worship services. In fact, we don’t recite anything. Over Christmas, our family went to a beautiful candle light Christmas Eve ceremony at a local Methodist church where recitation was part of the program. After the service (that all of us enjoyed), one of our daughters said, “I didn’t like reciting all that stuff. It made me feel like a minion.” But I digress . . .
I recently read (and loved) The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg. In it, Borg writes that “virtually all Christian” worship services include recitation of the Lord’s prayer, the creed, a confession of sin, and a few responses like ‘And also with you’ or ‘Thanks be to God’ (p. 158). But ours don’t.
So we don’t celebrate these holidays. I guess we feel like we don’t need to. We have a tradition of fasting for two meals on the first Sunday of every month and donating the money that we would have spent on those two meals to a fund that helps families in our local congregation with basic living expenses. So that’s sort of Lent-like in that it involves fasting and sacrifice. But that’s pretty much it.
I know we pride ourselves on being different than everyone else. We like to call ourselves a “peculiar people.” But I’d like to see us consider sharing this experience with the larger Christian family of which we wish to be considered a legitimate part. Joining other Christian denominations in parts of their worship services that we have traditionally eschewed might go a long way towards improving our dismal image with the American public.
What about you? Do you celebrate Lent? Did you give something up, or did you add something new? (Google tells me that people do both.)
And do you think that we’re better off sticking to our “peculiar people” claim, or would it do us some good to adopt some of the practices of mainstream Christianity?