The Spiritual Selfie – beginning the way through Lent

The 40 days leading up to Easter are – for Christian believers in such – a time of quiet and self-contemplation. This is different from the 40 days leading up to Christmas known as Advent which is also a time of quiet reflection (spiritually,) and yet is a time of anticipation.

Something new is about to happen! How do we / how do I prepare for whatever that change is?

In Lent, it’s all about me: where am I now spiritually? What’s going well, and what’s not? What needs change? What can I do to be both a better Christian and a better member of a greater community?

If you subtract out the “Christian” part, you can see how this works as a great plan for anyone of a contemplative slant: taking a dedicated, demarked time off for a lot of spiritual selfies of how we are, internally. What we believe. What we do not believe. And (the most important part), where do we need to improve.

Think of this as your annual spiritual review. You give yourself some new “jobs,” you drop off some that aren’t working, and you evaluate.

Our life as contemplative people is always this process of trying, review, change, and trying again.

The sort-of traditional way that Lent works is that one “gives up” something for these 40 days, and here is where all the late-night jokes come into play: giving up paying bills, giving up the wife, giving up my job, etc. etc.

What should happen in reality is that you give up something that will cause you some degree of distress to have to do without it for these 40 days. For me, it would be something like drinking coffee. I would say something like watching a favorite TV show except that I know my DVR would record it and I’d just watch it a month from now.

And, Lent is also a time to take on something new. (This part doesn’t make it to the late-night standup routines, so you might not be familiar with it.) The idea here is we add on something that is a task of some sort that needs resolution, not a burden that is impossible or will cause additional stress and fatigue.

And there doesn’t need to be a 100:100 balance of taking on vs. letting go. Going into Lent this year I found lots of taking on, and haven’t been inspired yet (two days into the event) of what to take off. Perhaps I’m burden hoarding this year!

That still doesn’t take me away from the central idea of these 40 day, of introspection and turning over the rocks in my spiritual path and looking to see what sorts of bugs and worms are under there. There’s no goal as to what happens with this self-examination: it’s not meant to necessarily make you better or worse, or to make you just throw up your hands and give up on all of it. The idea is that you have looked inside yourself and your own spirituality (of whatever type you have,) and that you better understand what you saw.

Change, then, will come out of that understanding.

Keep the faith!

 

A call to prayer and service at the beginning of Lent:

 

Dear People of God:

The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting.

This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.

Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.

 

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At the end of these 40 days – during the great brouhaha of the Easter season and on into what we call “the ordinary time,” – how many of the things you gave up will stay off your agenda, and how many of those jobs that you took on, will remain?

 

A Prayer for Christmas

O Lord Jesus Christ,
as you humbled yourself to be born among us and laid in a manger,
bring us with the shepherds and wise men
to kneel in awe and joyful thanksgiving
and to follow the steps of your blessed life;
that rejoicing now in your peace,
we may come at the last to eternal glory in your presence,
where the angels ever sing your praises.
– Amen.
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Xmas: X-ing Out Christmas and the War On Intelligence

There is no such thing as a “campaign” to X-out Christmas by writing the word as Xmas.
 
If you believe that, stop your complaining immediately and take stock of what it is that you are complaining about, and check your own attitude on “…good will to all humankind.”
That Xmas = Bad idea was around in popular cultrue decades before the conservative faction went radical and started calling everything from Disneyland to wedding cake as a “war on” Christianity. It’s older than all such non-theological, ignorant ideas, and just as dumb. It leaves the impression with those outside this self-blessed inner circle of so-called Christians that the “war” they speak of is actually one against any person and any idea outside their own. In other words, it’s perfectly ok for them to bad-mouth anyone else in the name of their religious beliefs, but if it comes back on them, then it’s a “war” against them and their off-track ideas.
Xmas is the perfect example of preachers just being flat-out dumb.
 
The fact is that the X in Xmas is an abbreviation that has meant “Christ” for many centuries, going back to the days when Gutenberg printed the first Bible. Looking at the Greek word that was translated as “Christ,” the X is the Greek letter Chi in the word:

ΧΡΙΣΤΩΣ

Hmm… That first letter looks like… Oh. An X. The word “CHRISTOS” above is Greek for “anointed.” Unless your preacher called in sick on the day that they covered THE GREEK ALPHABET in seminary, they should already know this well-known fact: the spelling of Christ’s name in the original Greek texts.
chi rho candle xmasIf you look at the first two letters of the word, what looks like an X and a P, those two show up in church art and symbolism as the Chi-Rho monogram. This may have gone all the way back to the first century followers of Jesus Christ (who knows? – there’s not exactly a record of this stuff), but by the 4th Century AD, the Emperor Constantine used the Chi-Rho as his standard when going to battle, after a dream in which he was told that if he converted to Christianity and used the symbol as his standard, his army would be saved. Believe it or not the symbol worked for him. At that point, Christianity became legal in the Roman Empire (for a while) and the Chi-Rho was the symbol used, and is seen in some ancient carvings.
Jump forward to the 15th Century when Gutenberg used the abbreviation “Xmas” in print as an abbreviated “Christmas” (before you snark at me, Gutenberg didn’t compose type in English.)
chi rho ancient roman carving xmasDictionaries note that the word Xmas was in common use by the 1600s,  It’s found as far back as scratchings in stone in the ancient Roman catacombs, and is as present today as to show up in the designs of priestly vestments and church altar dressings today. It might even be somewhere in the stained glass windows of your church. If you find it there, I hope you don’t feel as if your own parish (whatever you call it) is engaging in some sort of war on Christ.
How to say it:
 
Let’s not try and get snarky about pronunciation. The word Xmas is pronounced “Christmas” and not “exmas,” just the same as the whole word is pronounced instead of abbreviations like Mr., Mrs., Dr., etc. Not to mention the most recent to the list: @.
What we are looking at when we see the word Xmas is simply another word that has been used for centuries to mean the same thing. Think “Jesus Christ” vs. “Christ” vs. “Christ Jesus.” Same with all the many words that exist for “God.”
Attacks on Christmas and Christendom. Maybe the true attack – if any – that we deal with every day is that folks are wasting breath and energy ruining other peoples’ day with their own ill will toward their fellow humans. During Advent and Christmas, why not use every ounce of our energies to concentrate on the goodness of the season, regardless of other folks’ beliefs. Or other folks’ non-beliefs. As spiritual people, if we have enough time left at the end of each spiritual day to complain and grouse on the spelling of a word rather than to concentrate on all the fear in the world, all the hate, all the hunger, all the loveless, stinging cold, then we have not done enough to make our own – and our fellow humans – day complete.
Go in peace and pray for me, a sinner.
 – Amen
Ancient Roman Chi-Rho signet ring Xmas

Ancient Roman Chi-Rho signet ring