Lent was never part of my religious tradition growing up. It was one of those “Catholic” things that involved eating fish on Fridays and praying with beads and things like that – highly suspicious to a Protestant. I think I first “discovered” it in my third year of college, when we had a class on the festivals and seasons of the Church's year. I was fascinated to learn of this great Church tradition that has been practiced across time and continents, and decided to give up chocolate! I haven’t observed it every year since then, but I am always aware of those little words that pop up in my agenda or on a calendar: Ash Wednesday. Being part of an Anglican seminary the last 2 years has also raised my awareness of the season.
It’s not just about giving something up. It’s not about a yearly weeding out of unhealthy practices, like fated new years resolutions. It’s not about works righteousness and it’s not about making myself feel any better or worse about myself.
I'm no expert, and I haven’t done any research into the season, but this is what I’ve felt out from those around me and experienced myself:
It’s about orienting myself to a bigger story, to its rhythms of denial and fulfillment, death and resurrection, of fasting and celebration. It’s about placing myself on the way of Christ, and embracing the call to pick up my cross. It’s about reminding myself of the constant necessity to place my sins, my habits, my unexamined life, my desires and my time before a holy merciful God. It’s about joining with a community who are trying to walk with each other on this often-difficult way, confessing our sins together, jumping into the gospel story in the days leading up to Christ’s passion and asking Him to form us through His footsteps.
This year I’m fasting from television. It’s not a great vice of mine in particular, but I’ve felt it eating away at my time and mental energy, and it has all but replaced dinners together at the table. Since I’ve decided to give it up, I’m amazed and amused at how many times a day I have the impulse of turning it on – at a lull in my activity, when I’m bored or tired, when I’m procrastinating, when I’m just being thoughtless. It’s a good exercise. Days seem longer – who wouldn’t want more time in their day? – more reading and dish washing get done! I think the greatest change I’ve noticed so far is not only the diminished noise level in my house, but that my inner life is quieter. TV is another voice in my life that sometimes just needs to shut up. I haven’t come upon any great spiritual revelations in its absence, but I pray the silence is an open door for God to speak more clearly.