Growing up the daughter of a born again evangelical and a disenchanted former Catholic I didn’t really get a clear picture of what Lent was meant to be until I was an
adult. From my evangelical side I got nothing on Lent. Not even a mention. I knew the Catholic side of my
family did things like give up meat on Fridays and went to church a few extra times
during the lead up to Easter. There was
also this ash on the foreheads thing at the beginning that I did not get at
all. Then at some point I was introduced
to the idea that people gave up something. Things like chocolate or coffee or for
the hardcore maybe TV. This resonated
with me as a believer even though I most definitely fell in the evangelical
camp. I decided to jump on board usually
trying to give up soda (not always succeeding).
Sometimes I’d try for sweets or Facebook (this was usually even less
successful than soda even with the Sunday pass). I always felt a little better about myself at
the end of the forty days (you know for trying and all) and I always gorged on
whatever I had fasted when Easter rolled around.
Pretty sure I was
missing the point.
I did not have the
full story of Lent, its meaning, its history and its purpose.
Lent is not mandated
by scripture. You can’t find it in the Bible.
Its inception dates back to around 325 AD. It was established as a preparation for holy
week and Easter itself. The forty days
are meant to mirror Jesus’ period of fasting as told to us in the gospel of
Matthew. (see this interesting CT article
with some history or this Huffington
Article) The practice today varies
widely through denominations and individuals but often involves some of the following:
No meat on Fridays
Fasting on Ash
Wednesday and Good Friday
something throughout the Lenten period (with some people making an exception on
How did our spiritual
forefathers and mothers intend this forty day period to prepare us to celebrate
both the death and gloriously world changing resurrection of our Lord and Savior? Because I have this thing about tradition. If
continues for its own sake I hate it. However;
if it was created and continues to exist for a purpose, like drawing us closer
to Jesus, and it can do that then I don’t care if it’s almost two thousand
years old – I’m in. And I think if we do
Lent the right way it can lead us in to Holy week prepared to truly celebrate
the beauty, love and power that is Easter Sunday.
In my research
I found this quote from sister Joan Chittister that explains what Lent can be,
what it is meant to be better than I can:
Lent is the opportunity to change what we ought to
change but have not…Lent is about becoming, doing and changing whatever it is
that is blocking the fullness of life in us right now… Lent is a summons to
live anew…Lent is the time to let life in again, to rebuild the worlds we’ve
allowed to go sterile, to “fast and weep and mourn” for the goods
we’ve foregone. If our own lives are not to die from lack of nourishment, we
must sacrifice the pride or the sloth or the listlessness that blocks us from
beginning again. Then, as Joel (2:12-18) promises, God will have pity on us and
pour into our hearts the life we know down deep that we are lacking.
One idea a friend
introduced me to several years ago that I have incorporated into my Lenten
discipline was not to simply (or maybe at all) take something away from my
routine (like soda or social media) but to add something positive. Because fasting certainly has value but so
too can working toward a good. So my Lenten commitment could be – saying something
kind every day, studying a new topic or learning about an injustice.
But whether it is
the giving up or the taking on I don’t think it really matters. It is the mind and heart with which we do it that
matters. Can we take these forty days
(or really forty six because somehow Sundays aren’t counted) and give over some
part of ourselves to the Lord that we have held back that we might “begin anew”
and when Easter Sunday dawns can we be ready like never before to celebrate the
fact that we are truly saved and truly called to new life filled with hope,
purpose and meaning?
I want that.