Lent: traditionally and infamously a time of pointless self sacrifice among Christians and non Christians as they make big a deal of giving up minor pleasures that can easily be done without, or just make life a little less bearable for the weeks between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
Instead of giving something up, how about giving Lent a more positive image and taking up something new? Instead of just stopping something you probably should have stopped doing anyway, start doing something you perhaps should be doing but have not got around to yet.
Taking up something for Lent doesn’t include decorating the bathroom or clearing out the shed as they’re things you’d probably have to do eventually anyway. Decorating someone else’s bathroom or clearing someone else’s shed as act of unselfish service probably does count, as long as you’ve made sure that someone actually wants you to do it.
Ideally you should take up something you can complete in the standard Lent period of 40 days. You should take something up that does you some good and leaves you in a better frame of mind at the end of Lent than at the beginning. Because Lent isn’t primarily a festival of DIY - in your home or anyone else’s, it might be a good idea to take up something more aligned to what Lent is traditionally all about it.
Lent is a time of preparation. Jesus didn’t spend 40 days in the Judean wilderness just to loose weight or impress people by going without a few minor luxuries or even to save a few quid for charity. It was an act of discipline to get himself ready for his return into the mainstream of society and committed and ready carry out his mission.
For Jesus, his 40 days in the desert was a time of contemplation, of study, of communion with his Father-God and of self discovery. Today we’d call that going on retreat and choose a residential centre with full board and ensuite accommodation rather than the barren, sun scorched rock of the Palestinian hinterland.
Unfortunately, you probably don’t have the time, money or disregard for family and other responsibilities to drop everything and go on a 6 week retreat from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday, however attractive that might be seem.
What you can do is get all the lasting benefits of a six week retreat without the financial cost and resentment of those who rely on your continued presence for moral and material support. Taking up a Lent course of Bible study in your home, church or with a group gives you a structured yet flexible plan to think, discuss and explore. Exactly what you think about, discuss and explore depends on the Lent course of your choice. The important thing is that you choose one that interests and engages you. That way you’re more likely not to give it up before Lent is out.
New Lent courses give you a one-book resource with all the references, illustrations and meditations you need. That means you don’t need to cart around a whole library with you. Because Lent courses are set out in short daily or weekly chapters, any space in your busy day can become your own private ‘desert experience’. And because pictures speak louder and more effectively than words, many Lent courses are DVD based – especially those for group study.
Lent courses based on recent cinema films such as ‘The Kings Speech’, ‘Chocolat’ and the ‘Narnia Chronicles’ make for an easy way into the Bible material and for applying the Bible’s message to everyday life. Making space for a once a week or 10 minutes a day Lent course is easier – if not as much fun as 6 weeks on retreat, but in a busy life it will mean giving up something, not as a sacrifice but an opportunity.
Exactly what to give up? Again that’s your call. But if you really want to take up a chance to prepare yourself for the deep emotions of Passiontide and Easter, you’ll find some few minutes you’ll be glad to give over to a new experience. If it was me (and in my case it is) it’d be something like the time I waste watching tele that I don’t even like, and often can’t remember watching. And who knows, by the time Lent is done I might not even miss it.
February 22nd, 2012 - Posted & Written by Les Ellison