Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Do not cast me away from your presence, and do not take your holy spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation, and sustain in me a willing spirit. – Psalm 51:10-12
Ah, Lent. A confounding and confusing time. A season that some embrace. A season that some do not recognize.
Lent is the 40 days (not counting Sundays, as they are understood to be “Little Easters”) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday.
It was originally a time for the catechumenate (those receiving instruction in the faith) to prepare for their baptism at the Easter Vigil. Part of the associated austerity came from the expectation that self-denial was part of the preparation for this holy ritual washing. And to begin the practice of a particularly clean life, in some circles one was expected to stop sinning once baptized. Fortunately for all of us, God’s generous grace has lifted that unrealistic expectation!
While our understanding may have changed a bit, Lent is still set aside as a time of self-reflection, self-denial, austerity in personal practices, and so on.
It’s common practice among some Christians to mark Lent by giving something up, like sugar, alcohol, TV, or swearing. In college, one young woman in my circle gave up wearing jeans for Lent. Forty years later and I am still not clear about why. It’s also common to add something, like a daily devotion, bible reading, or acts of service or generosity.
However you choose “to Lent,” the idea is to use the time and your chosen practice to draw closer to God in honesty and humility. And to remember our utter dependence on God’s grace, love and compassion. But rather than understanding that we are dependent on God because we are no better than sinful worms(!), we recognize that our dependence is on God’s abundance, generosity and eagerness to be in partnership, lifting us up, restoring us to hope, peace, even joy.
Lent then becomes a time of gentle celebration. Not the raucous jubilance of Easter, not yet. But a time to remember who we are in the eyes of God and give thanks.
Maybe you will do a gratitude journal. Maybe you will sit in silence for five minutes every morning. Maybe you will give up one meal a week and donate the equivalent to the food shelf. Maybe you will join us Wednesday evenings for Dinner Church, which will have a special Lent flavor. (Or as a friend once said, A more Lentil flavor!?)
Whatever we do, we do it to celebrate God who loves us recklessly all the way through death into newness of life.