It’s the middle of Lent and even the sound of a pop can opening reminds Alisa Bolander what she gave up — Coke Zero — during her 40-day preparation for Holy Week.
Focusing on her soul, rather than her taste buds and daily habit, has been especially meaningful for the Mormon mom this season of mourning, having lost her 64-year-old father two months ago. The discipline reminds her that mortal life is temporary and that light eventually follows darkness.
Unlike most Mormons and the church itself, Bolander has been observing Lent for the past few years, prompted by disappointment at hearing no mention of Jesus Christ during her LDS congregation’s 2009 Easter Sunday services.
The miracle of the empty tomb was "completely ignored and forgotten. It didn’t make it into the lessons, testimonies or even hymns that day," Bolander, of Sandy, recalls. "I decided I needed to go somewhere else."
Since then, this devout Mormon has enjoyed participating at Holladay United Church of Christ in traditional Passion rituals, including Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday/Good Friday, Saturday Vigil and Easter Sunday.
"It takes you from Jesus’ triumphant entry into Jerusalem through the Last Supper and Crucifixion, from hailing [the Son of God] to abandoning him at his most vulnerable," Bolander says. "Such range of emotions is a really good and deeply Christian experience. As a Mormon and Christian, I need to have that experience."
Now more and more members of the LDS Church are eagerly seeking the same feelings, so they have turned to the Lenten mainstays of traditional liturgical Christians.
Some are converts from Catholicism and various Protestant denominations who miss the rituals of their former faiths. Some are lifelong Mormons yearning for a richer way to anticipate and hallow their belief in Jesus’ rebirth.
They say Lent helps them focus on their Savior’s sacrifice, be mindful of a confining habit, embrace the community of Christians and relive the agony of Christ’s last week, rather than just hearing about it.
‘Creeping ecumenism’ » Increasingly, members of other nonliturgical Protestant faiths — Methodists, Presbyterians, Congregationalists and American Baptists — also are finding value in these Holy Week rituals, says historian Jan Shipps.
This is "creeping ecumenism," says Shipps, a retired professor of American religion at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, "not in doctrine or theology but in ritual."
Mormons and Protestants are no longer isolated among their own, but, through friends, neighbors, co-workers and social media are discovering that Easter-related practices, she says, "do bring you closer to your spiritual life in a way that is surprising."
As a Methodist growing up in the Bible Belt, Shipps and her family did not participate in Holy Week services.
"Lord no!" she says emphatically. "People would have thought we were about to turn Catholic."
Back then, Shipps says, most Protestant services were about prayer, preaching, testimony and hymn singing.
That’s because Reformers broke away from Catholicism partly as a critique of its ritual excesses.
Protestant worship has a "leanness to it, a spareness, a restraint," says Philip Barlow, chair of Mormon History and Culture at Utah State University. "It leans toward austerity compared to the richness of Catholic and Orthodox traditions."
Mormonism, which emerged in 19th-century Protestant-dominated America, Barlow explains, "inherited part of that."
Latter-day Saints think they note Easter, Barlow says, but their "idea of celebration is a church talk on resurrection or Christ’s atonement."
Mormons might be able to honor the day more fully, he says, "if we had some analogue to Lent, if we were ritually conscious of the events leading up to it."Next Page >
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