I know it isn’t happening everywhere or to everyone, but it seems like this year is going by fairly quickly, even if the individual days or weeks may seem to be interminable at times. It’s Lent already, and I’m not sure I’m ready for it.
Lent is a penitential liturgical season, focusing on reflection, remorse, and acts of repentance. There are days (like Ash Wednesday and Fridays) where we are encouraged to show our repentance by fasting, particularly from eating meat and giving up something we enjoy eating or doing (like eating chocolate or drinking beer or coffee). We are also encouraged to take on extra spiritual duties, like additional times of prayer, reading spiritual books, attending study groups at church, or performing acts of charity in addition to any we may already be doing. The whole focus is to develop ourselves spiritually and to recall that Jesus often did these same activities as part of his ministry. In short, we are encouraged to be more like Jesus.
Many people don’t really “get” the idea of Lent. They will give up things like chocolate or only eat fish or vegetarian (sometimes vegan dishes) on Fridays. Jews fast on special holy days such as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and other days listed in Jewish calendars marked for fasts. Muslims fast from dawn to sunset every day during the holy month of Ramadan and three days every month. Hindus restrict themselves to vegetarian meals and fast Monday and Saturday during July and August. Fasting is not strictly a Christian practice, but Christians often undertake Lent as a time for fasting in remembrance of Jesus’s forty days in the wilderness just after his baptism.
This week, I’ve been pondering the thought that there’s more to Lent than gloom, doom, and mental (or physical) flagellation. Take Sunday, for example. The forty days of Lent only include Monday through Saturday. Every Sunday in the Christian calendar, even in Lent, is a day of remembrance of Jesus’s resurrection. We celebrate the Eucharist on Sundays. Although the music during Lent is more somber and the readings a little more penitential, we still have Sunday as a kind of day off from regular Lenten disciplines.
Also, when we observe Lent, that doesn’t prevent us from looking out at God’s world and seeing the beauty and joy of nature. It’s the season of birth, and the sight of bouncing baby lambs, kids, and calves can’t help but raise our spirits and make us thankful. Trees begin budding, and flowers pop up, even snowdrops and narcissi pushing their heads out of snowbanks to reach the sun.
This Lent is bruised and battered by thoughts of things going on in Ukraine and other places worldwide. During Lent 2021, we were in the throes of COVID and wondered if it would ever end. It still hasn’t completely vanished, but we are freer to gather, pray, and celebrate together than we have been for many months. We pray earnestly for relief from illness, natural disasters (like Tonga), and war. We ask for God’s blessings on those who suffer in any way and God’s help in bringing peace and comfort to the world.
While we ask for blessings and healing, we also need to be grateful for things we often forget to mention in our prayers. Those of us with roofs over our heads, health, employment, transportation to where we want and need to go, and violence-free streets and neighborhood should be thankful for such things. We pray for first responders and service workers who put their lives on the line to keep us safe, healthcare workers who are exhausted but still struggling to save lives, and those who try to keep our supply lines moving and our stores stocked with food and other necessities. We can be grateful for our four-footed friends who often seem like lifelines and who love us unconditionally. We should never forget to be thankful for those we love and who love us. The list of “gratitudes” could (and should) go on forever.
So this Lent, let us be mindful not only of what we lack in our spiritual lives, the things for which we should be repentant, and the ways to show that repentance, but also for things we need to remember to be grateful. It’s another way to live a more Christian life and a fuller one through Lent. After all, Easter is only about seven weeks away!
This week, think of Lent as a blessing, not a burden.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.
Image: St. Sophia Cathedral, Kyiv, Ukraine. 2014. Author Ivan Sedlovskyi. Found at Wikimedia Commons.