An Extended Awareness: Some Thoughts on Lent

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I.

I didn’t grow up observing Lent.  Perhaps this is your story too.

Over time I have come to believe that Lent is an extended awareness and a reminder that life isn’t only about Me and Mine.

The word Lent is old English meaning to lengthen. It comes in the spring as the days begin to stretch and elongate.

Traditionally during the forty days of Lent people give something up and there are lessons learned.

I’ll confess to only dabbling with Lent and usually not making it through to forty days, sometimes “giving up” chocolate or some thing that is more of a sacrifice like caffeine. Once or twice I remember giving up alcohol. (That one didn’t last!) Other times I chose sugar or carbs. Turning it into more of a diet. Thinking maybe I can be “spiritual” and lose weight at the same time. The most pious customarily give up eating anything made of the fat from blood animals.

Abstaining at Lent may be an epochal moment in your spiritual journey—changing your spirit and body forever.

2.

The act of giving something up forces a complete revaluation of self.  Suddenly life is not about our incessant self-satisfaction. Bringing a reconnoitering of what is Mine and what is Ours, etching on our soul an openness to greater generosity and community.  Hopefully one comes to understand the idea that restraint or curbing of the Self is as important as satisfying Self.

As the years go by, I have come to understand more fully that this experience of sacrifice and repentance could be an important part of what it means to be a spiritual person.

And we join an ancient tradition in religious history that is thousands of years old.

III.

The Lenten fast is a part of the liturgical church’s calendar but that doesn’t mean evangelicals need not engage in this important spiritual tradition. Knowing that it is coming up, I wanted to learn more about this Church tradition.

Observed over the forty days before Easter, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday.  It is traditionally a time of fasting and reflection.  The last week of Lent is Holy Week.  Shrove Tuesday, the day before Lent starts, is a day of penitence, to clean the soul, and a day of celebration as it is the last chance to feast before Lent begins.

I found it interesting that in order to not waste food, families have a feast on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday to eat up the food that would spoil in forty days.  The need to eat up the fats (meat, butter, eggs and milk, etc.) is where the French name Mardi Gras (‘fat Tuesday’) came from.  Pancakes became associated with Shrove Tuesday because they are a dish that could use up all the eggs, fats and milk in the house with the addition of flour.

But background should not trivialize out awareness of what this sort of fast might bring to us spiritually. Our bodies and spirits being connected. When we gorge ourselves day-to-day We (the wealthy among us that is.) aren’t as aware of our immense spiritual needs.

IV.

I have been in a long-drawn-out icy season of grief. Not a loss specifically, but a suffering that life sometimes brings; which I have written about elsewhere.

I know intellectually that this dark season cannot possibly stay forever, and joy will come.  At least I’m hoping it isn’t permanent. Hoping for healing or at least some movement toward healing.  More days than not over these two years (and this decade) life has been filled with depression, fear, anxiety, sorrow and more recently grief.  All internal.  All inside me.

If you are lost in a Long Winter of Grief, how do you step into the extended awareness and lingering of Lent? When you feel brittle and bent like a reed how do you find Belief again? 

All I can reason out is that it is important to make a choice to lay aside this cloak of grief. Though it is obviously not an actual physical entity, some days it feels weighty. Like a somatic struggle of an Other, it is on me, pulling at my flesh and spirit.

The wise and brilliant Joan Chittister says Lent is a growing season.

It doesn’t happen to us. She says, “It is at most a microcosm of what turns out to be a lifelong journey…”

Perhaps what we need annually on this faith walk is to confront our absorption with Self, which is “conscious and purposeful.”  If it is a growing season as Chittister says, this must help us handle the rest of our life.

V.

Our lives in the West have become so trivial and pedestrian. We go about them mostly focused on our own pleasures (Or am I the only one?)  Perhaps in this next season, whether you fast for Lent or run in the green grasses of Spring or simply experience a greater awareness of life’s renewal, ask yourself–what’s important?  Perhaps renew your commitment and passion to that over these coming days.

So, out of a need to declare the end of This Thing Grief. Or to grow into what it means To Carry Grief On, if that is required. I have chosen to take up a fast over the forty days of Lent.  I anticipate a great internal struggle, the voice of Self telling me I cannot make it. And even as I fight inertia and hunger and disbelief, I choose to believe in what I cannot see.  I resolve that I will find something that I don’t yet have words for and cannot explain.

In the end that is Faith.

Isn’t that all each of us can do? To remain Open, Extended and Aware in this season of longer Light and Hope.  For life is not all about joy.  It is also about the power to endure and to Believe.

Sources:

National Catholic Reporter, Feb. 23, 2001. See more.

The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittister (Thomas Nelson)

–I also read this from BBC.

In 2014:

Shrove Tuesday is March 4th
Ash Wednesday is March 5th
Lent is March 5th – April 19th
Holy Week is Apr 13th – 19th
Maundy Thursday is April 18th
Good Friday is April 19th
Easter is April 20th

Other things I’ve written about Lent.

Lent: My agenda or God’sPerfect Practice: A Poem; To Lent or Not to Lent: That is the Question; What is Lent Anyway, Besides Strange; {Lenten Series: Winter Slowly Recedes (Poem)}; {Lenten Series: If You Were Homeless}; A Prayer For Lent; {Lenten Series: Thou Mayst in Me Behold}

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