Unlike Christmas, which has a predictable and lengthy countdown, Lent always seems to take me by surprise. It is also a season that even in church is a bit “take it or leave it/do your own thing.” Many Christians don’t do anything, except maybe eat a pancake on Shrove Tuesday, and of course celebrate Easter. There isn’t really a standard format for Lent. (The Blogger’s church is what you might call Relaxed Evangelical C of E.)
The traditional thing to do is to give something up for Lent, a hangover (hmm) from more serious fasting in the past. One gives up something nice, like TV, chocolate or Facebook – there is of course the optional Sundays off version (because Lent with Sundays is more than forty days.) As Stephen Sheridan pointed out in his response to last week’s blog rant, one can give up anger and resentment – a difficult option at present. There are Lent study or meditation books of various kind. Some people prefer to take something on or doing something new and positive, such as sending a kindly email each day.
And there’s increasingly the “think-of-things-and-give-money-to-charity” version. This year I have a Christian Aid booklet, the aim of which is to raise awareness of climate change, and also to make money.
(Perhaps in the modern world giving things up cannot be seen except with an accompanying aim of raising money or losing weight?)
It’s all quite a confusing lot to think about, at a time of year when one isn’t ready for a new set of thoughts.
What is Lent about, really?
I’m a bit handicapped by my non-liturgical background, but I think there are various aspects:
Repentance (Ash Wednesday)
Self-discipline (giving up sweets, fasting) or more positively becoming a better person, even temporarily
Listening to God and re-aligning one’s life
Pondering Jesus’ last days in the run-up to Easter.
One can see connections between all these things, but they’re not the same. I’m not sure I can manage to do them all at once. Perhaps one aspect this year, and another in 2020?
“Giving things up for Lent” has fallen out of fashion, just as fasting has. Both are spiritual practices that are easy to abuse and show off about, as Jesus and Paul warned. But that doesn’t mean they can’t be valuable. There’s an attitude that says “let’s not give up, ie be negative, for Lent; let’s be positive, and take something on, such as smiling at people or sending kindly emails…”
I’m not sure. Of course stepping forward in daily kindness and cheerfulness is good, and of course Christianity isn’t or shouldn’t be negative about life. Yes, let’s challenge ourselves to be nicer, more thoughtful, more grateful and chirpy. But sometimes isn’t it a good thing to step back from the luxuries that we take for granted? To remind ourselves that it isn’t actually important that we always get the nice things we’re used to? After all, most of the world’s population for most of history would have regarded our everyday lives as unimaginable luxury.
If you’re used to drinking seven cups of coffee a day and give this up for 40 days, there will be discomfort, because it’s a mild addiction. You can remind yourself that this isn’t real suffering, of the kind that Jesus underwent in the wilderness or on the cross – or that many millions of people suffer each day.
I think my conclusion is that Christians can concentrate on one of the other aspects of Lent – or on none.
Just as long as they don’t worship the Easter Bunny!
Love from the PPI Blogger