The man behind the H-E-B checkout counter asked a customer if she knew she had dirt on her forehead. The woman paused a second before laughing.
“Ash Wednesday,” she answered.
On Ash Wednesday, which is February 26, Christians around the world display ashen crosses on their foreheads to mark the beginning of the Lenten season, the time of penance and reflection before Good Friday and Easter, which is April 12.
“Lent, it comes from an old English word that means spring time,” said the Rev. Harold Vanicek of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church of Marble Falls. “For the church, Lent is a time of growth.”
Lent is typically celebrated by Catholics, Lutherans, Episcopalians, Methodists, and Presbyterians. The 46 days from Ash Wednesday to the Thursday before Good Friday is a chance for Christians to draw nearer to God.
“There are three main ways of growing in our faith during Lent: the practice of giving alms, the practice of fasting, the practice of prayer,” Vanicek said.
That doesn’t necessarily mean giving alms or abstaining from food or drink; they can be the gift of your time and talents or giving up something, such as coffee or chocolate. Vanicek said it can also mean taking up a practice or discipline that helps one grow in their faith.
Vanicek looks at the three areas from a community standpoint.
“What does it mean to do these in a community sense?” he said. “What does fasting look like as a community? I think it’s being mindful of our intake. And when I say ‘intake,’ I’m not just talking about food. What are we taking in, whether that’s from social media or things like that, and how can we maybe take a break from some of it?”
Another way to look at Lent is as a journey.
“It’s a pilgrimage,” Vanicek said. “It’s a journey as you’re growing in your faith, but we’re going to fall down. What’s amazing about God is God never stops walking alongside of us. It doesn’t matter how many times we fall down, He’s there for us. He meets us where we’re at.”
People are often in a hurry, whether to the next milepost in their faith journey or their next appointment. Life is full of pressures. Lent is the time to take that pressure off oneself and realize their life is in someone else’s hands.
“Lent is a reminder to slow down,” Vanicek added. “It’s a time to remember that God’s in control.”