Guest Post: {Family and the Christian Year} Christine Warner on Lent and brushing teeth to candlelight

I'm so thrilled I have the chance to introduce you to Christine Warner today. She is one of my favorite gems I've discovered here in Austin. Her kindness, wisdom, warmth and bright spirit make her one of those people you can't help but describe as "special." I've mentioned before how she has challenged me by how she invites her children into the Christian Year. So I'm excited to welcome her into our semi-unregular discussions on that very topic as she shares her family's Lenten tradition.

I came to the Anglican tradition as an exhausted, falling-asleep-while-reading-the-Bible-non-praying-new-mother.  I needed help. I seemed to need visual aids and props to live out my love for Jesus and to receive His love for me, guiderails for the sake of longevity for my prone-to-wander heart.  In my new church, I found the faith-sustaining frame of liturgy, a tradition of Jesus followers who, on a weekly basis, called me to Scripture reading and heart-wrenchingly rich prayers along with confession.  I found a profusion of beauty and a symbol-saturated daily life.  I found the church calendar which invites me to “inhabit the story of God” (Living the Christian Year, by Bobby Gross).  My fragile faith felt sustained; maybe there was a chance that I would still be pursuing God at eighty.

My husband and I have four children between the ages of 6 and 13.  Our calendar year now coexists with a surprisingly baroque Christian Year.  Now, with many years under our belt of family ceremonies and celebrations, the children eagerly anticipate and contend for the traditions we have grown into. Some attempted traditions never came to life.  Some traditions require a revival and restart.  Some traditions have become so deeply a part of our identity that I wonder if they could ever be removed.  “Giving up Electricity for Lent” is one such tradition, an idea planted in a seemingly random conversation with friends some 14 years ago

During Lent we are invited into the gift and privilege of fasting.  We let go of something that creates more room for God, more room to listen to Him, more room to love Him better, more room to love others, and less room for distraction, less room for the things that become “dressed-up” idols.  Each member of our family gives up small, but costly, habits during Lent (desserts, coffee, hair gel), but what most significantly defines our 46 days before Easter is electric darkness and silence.

First, what this does not mean: We do not go off the grid. We leave on: the fridge, the AC or heat (depending on variable Texas weather), the gas, the water. On Sabbath/Sunday, once a week, we watch a family movie.   Now, what it does mean:  For only two hours a day we have access to the computer, dishwasher, washing machine and dryer.  For 40 days there are no electric lights at all.  Appliances and the computer are quiet most of the day.  We do not listen to recorded music. This means lots of candlelight and daylight, lots of silence and darkness, lots of room for God and each other.

We have written much about this experience in our journals, how hard it is and the glimpses of life and truth we drink in. I could write about the ways in which our expectations of encountering God were met, exceeded or dashed.  I could write about the extensive verses in Scripture about Light and Darkness. But here I’ll just share a few of our Lenten Darkness observations:

  1. We bump into furniture and drop things a little more, especially at the edges of tables and counters.  One might be reminded of episodes of the Three Stooges.
  2.  Fasting electricity, it turns out, means fasting from light, noise, information, and easy entertainment…eyes, ears, mind, heart are all quieted.
  3.  Dusk and sunset take on special meaning and beauty.  We have a heightened awareness of the light coming through the windows.  The reflections and shadows on different surfaces feel significant and precious.
  4. Darkness in the city isn’t very dark.  Ambient light envelops us.
  5. The best candle holders are the ones from Little House on the Prairie, a taper candle holder with a base plate and a finger loop. Tapers produce the brightest light.
  6. The morning becomes especially welcome. There’s an anticipation of sunrise…light
  7. The constant call to productivity as well as the ability to “get things done” fades and only the space around the candle or lamp is lit.  It is a call to presence (books, stories, conversation).
  8. You cannot sweep or clean thoroughly by candlelight.  I appreciate the cleanliness possible with light.  Dust, dirt, spots and wax drips are more generously tolerated for 46 days.
  9. We’ve gained a greater understanding of the significance of the solstices and those whose lives are directly shaped by the natural rhythms and forces.
  10. Small children cannot manage wax candles (can teenagers any better?), so there is an intimacy and bonding in the night routines done in each other’s company.  There is something magical and charming about all four children brushing their teeth to candlelight.
  11. Lent becomes missional in that I am able to talk with joy and freedom about Lent and Jesus to my most avid environmentalist friends and colleagues and students who are antagonistic to the church.
  12. We sleep better, deeper.

This fast is only a rail, a prop, a visual aid.  But it provides a healing limitation that turns our hearts towards the Father, Son and Holy Spirit who in love are winning, wooing, crushing, and making us new.

We are not prepared to live this way for the other 319 days of the year, but you know Easter is coming by the way our children are preparing by counting candles and discussing creative ways to make their own music to replace KMFA.  Oh, yes, Easter is coming!

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