Years ago, one of my best friends and my pastor, Brian Hui, invited our church to consider an alternative to the Lenten habit of fasting: instead of dropping something for Lent, what if we took up something for Lent? Christian tradition is filled with disciplines of abstinence as well as disciplines of engagement, as Richard Foster has pointed out. These disciplines of engagement might include celebration, prayer, or communion with others. Never being one to be smart enough to choose one simple change, I decided to do both this Lent: give up coffee, take up blogging.
Today, the Gregorian and Lunar calendars conspired to put Ash Wednesday and Chinese New Years Eve on the same night, so I wasn’t able to go to our church’s Ash Wednesday service tonight, prioritizing dinner with my folks. Red envelopes instead of back ashes, symbolic dishes instead of bread and wine. Living as a Chinese Christian in the West means that, for the most part, what is beautiful culturally coalesces powerfully with what is significant spiritually. But at other times, the way we try to embody both culture and faith are either/or propositions, not both/and. And time and calendars are often a domain where the cultures of ethnic heritage and the cultures of life in Christ can have struggles of mutual exclusivity.
Chinese New Year suits my style. Looking forward with optimism, embracing good fortune with cautious expectation, seizing the chance to start anew.
But right now, Ash Wednesday is what I need. Humility to grieve what’s been lost in us. The preparation for a long season of reflection, readiness for a desert time, and repentance as a mode of living.
My life is so overrun with excesses of material stuff, of unfulfilled opportunities, of unmet promises, of troubling consumption, that I feel like I’m hurtling recklessly on the momentum of a lifestyle that’s self- and world-destructive. I’m hungering for a season of simplicity and repose, not of prosperity and luck. Luck, I’ve had. But when we’re called into account for what’s been lavished on us? That’s where I’m at the end of my rope, seeking salvation, not longevity.