The 40 days leading up to Easter are – for Christian believers in such – a time of quiet and self-contemplation. This is different from the 40 days leading up to Christmas known as Advent which is also a time of quiet reflection (spiritually,) and yet is a time of anticipation.
Something new is about to happen! How do we / how do I prepare for whatever that change is?
In Lent, it’s all about me: where am I now spiritually? What’s going well, and what’s not? What needs change? What can I do to be both a better Christian and a better member of a greater community?
If you subtract out the “Christian” part, you can see how this works as a great plan for anyone of a contemplative slant: taking a dedicated, demarked time off for a lot of spiritual selfies of how we are, internally. What we believe. What we do not believe. And (the most important part), where do we need to improve.
Think of this as your annual spiritual review. You give yourself some new “jobs,” you drop off some that aren’t working, and you evaluate.
Our life as contemplative people is always this process of trying, review, change, and trying again.
The sort-of traditional way that Lent works is that one “gives up” something for these 40 days, and here is where all the late-night jokes come into play: giving up paying bills, giving up the wife, giving up my job, etc. etc.
What should happen in reality is that you give up something that will cause you some degree of distress to have to do without it for these 40 days. For me, it would be something like drinking coffee. I would say something like watching a favorite TV show except that I know my DVR would record it and I’d just watch it a month from now.
And, Lent is also a time to take on something new. (This part doesn’t make it to the late-night standup routines, so you might not be familiar with it.) The idea here is we add on something that is a task of some sort that needs resolution, not a burden that is impossible or will cause additional stress and fatigue.
And there doesn’t need to be a 100:100 balance of taking on vs. letting go. Going into Lent this year I found lots of taking on, and haven’t been inspired yet (two days into the event) of what to take off. Perhaps I’m burden hoarding this year!
That still doesn’t take me away from the central idea of these 40 day, of introspection and turning over the rocks in my spiritual path and looking to see what sorts of bugs and worms are under there. There’s no goal as to what happens with this self-examination: it’s not meant to necessarily make you better or worse, or to make you just throw up your hands and give up on all of it. The idea is that you have looked inside yourself and your own spirituality (of whatever type you have,) and that you better understand what you saw.
Change, then, will come out of that understanding.
Keep the faith!
A call to prayer and service at the beginning of Lent:
Dear People of God:
The first Christians observed with great devotion the days of our Lord’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting.
This season of Lent provided a time in which converts to the faith were prepared for Holy Baptism. It was also a time when those who, because of notorious sins, had been separated from the body of the faithful were reconciled by penitence and forgiveness, and restored to the fellowship of the Church.
Thereby, the whole congregation was put in mind of the message of pardon and absolution set forth in the Gospel of our Savior, and of the need which all Christians continually have to renew their repentance and faith.
At the end of these 40 days – during the great brouhaha of the Easter season and on into what we call “the ordinary time,” – how many of the things you gave up will stay off your agenda, and how many of those jobs that you took on, will remain?