A few people have asked me, and so I decided to write here the answer to Why I Celebrate Lent:
“Remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return,” struck me with their solemnity when I went to my first Ash Wednesday service with a Catholic friend in high school. For years I was used to seeing my classmates come to school with smudges on their foreheads but I never really knew why. We were entering into a period of mourning, and like the ancients we placed ashes on our heads and fasted. Since then I have practiced Lent, each year manifesting itself in a different way as I, coming from a mainstream Protestant background, largely observed this practice alone.
Lent, for me, has two main purposes. First, we are mourning for the death of Christ and for our sin that was the cause for him to die. Secondly, it is a period of spiritual self-discipline. We fast because we mourn, but maintaining the fast is discipline. I’ve described it as “spring cleaning” for the soul, and Tim Sean has likened it to Spring Training for baseball. Traditionally I give up soda and chocolate, but I try to find something else each year, too. I try to choose something that I’ve come to depend upon instead of Christ. One year I limited my Internet time to two hours a day. Another year I gave up at least an hour every day after dinner to spend time studying Deuteronomy. Last year I gave up listening to music-with-words. The weeks leading up to Lent are spent in self-searching, and then Lent is spent relinquishing control over that part of my life, or relinquishing its hold on me. The self-searching continues during the harsh scrutiny of Lent, stripping away the layers of indulgence that have built up over the past year to find the naked soul. Above all, Lent is to prepare us for Easter. With the resurrection of Christ, we too are resurrected in hope and faith, being clothed in white robes of righteousness. For forty days we fast, mourn, and meditate, and come Easter morning are better Christians because of it.
The year I studied Deuteronomy fused together the thread of God’s deliverance of the Hebrews from Egypt and of his deliverance of all people from sin through Christ. That Holy Week happened during Passover always fascinated me, and was why I hosted a Passover meal last year. The result is that I conceive of Lent as spiritual journey: these forty days are my years in the wilderness, mirrored by Jesus’ forty days in the desert, spent meditating, learning, relying on God to provide the manna and the quail, the water from the rock, the way to the Promised Land, ingraining these lessons into my heart and mind that I might remember them in the days after Easter.
That said, I need to eat the rest of my chocolate stash before tomorrow. 🙂