Observing Lent

by Anna Blanch on February 17, 2010

Today is Ash Wednesday.

I grew up observing Lent. Pancakes on Shrove Tuesday. Ashes on your forehead from the palms that had burned on the previous palm sunday. The School canteen served only fish. You gave up things you liked alot. But when I stopped going to a Catholic Church and started attending an Evangelical Protestant church I also stopped observing lent in some of those ways. The ashes stayed.

What has struck me over the last couple of years is the way that Lent is talked about and observed in other parts of the world and by people around me who by their own admission don’t think much of Christianity, churches, or religion in general. That it is talked about actually suprised me. That it is observed, often more zealously than those of my acquaintance who are church members, has been somewhat of a revelation.

It’s made me think much more about Lent this year. It’s made me take some time to reflect on what Lent means to me, and to consider why and how I observe this liturgical season.

In the last few days I have read and heard declarations from friends and colleagues about their Lenten resolutions. Some I know are encouraging people to take up a new positive habit, taking time to encourage use of fairtrade products or committing to serving the community regularly. Others are giving up chocolate, coffee, meat, alcohol, social networking, or gaming.

Lent is a season of preparation. In contrast to Advent, which is an exciting and expectant time, Lent is sombre offering a time of reflection on the pain and suffering endured by Christ on the Cross and his 40 days in the desert (especially his confrontation and triumph over Satan). So what is attractive about Lent to those who don’t buy into, or want to, the reality of Christ as saviour or the celebration of the resurrection of Christ following his crucifixion?

I asked a few people and the general summary of their answers was:
Lent is time of reflection and an opportunity to understand yourself better.Giving up something shows perseverance and discipline. It is about self deprivation and to show yourself you can.

Is this any different to New Years Resolution?

Have you noticed a change where you are in the way people think about or observe Lent?

Do you observe Lent? Are you going to observe Lent this year? How? Why?

  • Rose Bexar

    I'm not one who observes Lent, but I do have an observation about it (and this is totally JMHO, haven't seen confirmation anywhere): I suspect the forty-day fast has some connection to the forty days of preparation for Passover in Jewish tradition. One of the main goals of this original Spring Cleaning is to remove every speck of leaven (yeast) from the house, with the exception of the three pieces to be found and burned on the first night of the feast. Given that Messianic tradition still views the latter ritual as a symbol of Christ's atoning work on the cross, destroying our sins, it's not hard to allegorize the Lenten fast as a spiritual Spring Cleaning, and a natural part of that process is contemplating just what Jesus went through for us.
    The problem, of course, is neglecting your spiritual house during other times of the year in favor of a forty-day deep cleaning that might or might not be accomplished by giving up something that might or might not be bad for you anyway (and might not even be your worst vice). But that mainly goes to show how badly people have failed to grasp the original concept.

  • http://rebeccablogs.blogspot.com Rebecca

    I'm not sure how to convey my feelings about Lent. It was not a season I grew up observing, other than by feasting on the fried German donuts called fastnachts that my grandmother made every Fastnacht (Shrove Tuesday). I began observing Lent as an adult because I knew a friend had given up ice cream. But it was more than the fast that appealed to me. It is dedicating a season to spiritual consecration. It is anticipating the spiritual renewal that has is ours through Calvary that we celebrate at Easter. I love this season, so mingled as it is with repentance and thanksgiving, sorrow and joy, and I look forward to it throughout the year. This year, I am giving up a few favorite foods. In curbing my fleshly appetites, I am also trying give the Holy Spirit more rein in my life. I am devoting more time to studying the Scriptures on matters of faith and practice. What should I believe and how should that belief inform my behaviors? How can I more closely identify with Christ, His life, His sufferings? Fasting is a good place to start.

    Thanks for a thought-provoking question!

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