It might appear that the observance of the cycle of liturgical seasons and the practices that traditionally accompany them would set off the "legalistic" alarm bells in my brain. However, I feel something very different - An invitation to experience time in a way that centers around and is mindful of the life of Christ.
I grew up in the Protestant church, which places much less emphasis on the liturgical cycle than Catholic and Orthodox churches. Christmas and Easter were experienced as two stand-alone celebrations, not an arc unfolding the Story. To experience time framed from Advent to Easter creates a mindfulness of the time of preparation for both the celebration of Jesus' birth (and his expected second coming at the end of time) and the remembrance his death and the celebration of his resurrection and ascension.
We are currently in the season of Lent. This is the period of purification and penance which begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Thursday (or Maundy Thursday, as I grew up hearing it called). As someone new in her understanding of Lent, I value the insights of others who have long been observing this celebration.
My friend, Tara, writes on her website (www.anamcara.com):
The penintenial time of Lent is meant to be a response to God's longing call in Joel 2, "Return to me with your whole heart!" In those words, I hear the ache of a father whose son has rejected him (Luke 15:11-32), the cry of a lover who longs for the beloved (Song of Songs 2), the agony of Christ on the Cross (Mark 15:25-37). In those words, I hear the invitation of God to look at my own heart, and consider the things that keep me from deeper intimacy with a God who loves me beyond anything I could ask or imagine...Contrary to popular culture, Lent isn't about giving something up just to prove that you have control of your addictions, or that you're better than the chocoholic next door. Instead, it's about making space to receive more of God's love, His tenderness and your true identity in Him.She explains so beautifully why the invitation to observe Lent doesn't send me running with my "legalism" alarms blaring. I understand the invitation of Lent, and I desire to enter in, to practice it mindfully and prayerfully, and to walk in obedience as I make space for God as He directs.