On Tuesday I had a conversation with a coworker about what she was going to do for Lent this year. Lent’s a season of the liturgical calendar leading up to Easter that’s typically observed by Catholics by way of different forms of fasting, most commonly through temporary dietary restrictions. In recent decades the practice has spilled over into Protestant observance with the twist that participants in Lent fast in a variety of ways that may or may not have to do with diet. The purpose, broadly speaking, is to go through a season of privation as a means of enhancing one’s spiritual practice.
Anyway, my coworker was discussing what she should “give up” for Lent; it was the end of the day and we were all just decompressing from being with students, so we were being a little silly. My coworker suggested giving up things like not cursing in front of students or eating Mexican food (she was not excited by the prospect of having Mexican for dinner). I told her that’s not how Lent works to which she laughed and said that she was glad I was acting as her conscience.
We didn’t really settle the question of what she should give up for Lent before we left work (when it’s time to go, we go), but the conversation got me thinking about my own relationship with Lent.
I’ve observed Lent a handful of times in my life with varying levels of difficulty. The first time, before I even converted to Christianity, I gave up watching anime. This was when I was in college and I was really interested in anime; it ended up not being terribly difficult because my interest in the medium had been waning anyway (it’s easy to give up a thing you don’t prioritize in your life already). The second time was after I converted; I gave up playing video games that time, and I found it to be really difficult. I was still really immature at that point, and I don’t know that I got much out of the practice beyond being able to say that I had done it.
A few years later, when I was doing my student teaching, I did Lent again, but I put a different spin on it. I’m one of those people who apparently has a young looking face; I get mistaken for a teenager with some frequency, especially since I work in a high school environment. One of the ways I manage this problem is that I maintain a perpetual stubble; lots of teenage boys can grow decent facial hair, but not as many as who can’t. My student teaching year I was really sensitive about being mistaken for a high schooler, and at the time I viewed this sensitivity as a sort of pride that I had to overcome. So for that year of Lent, I decided to shave every day (I really dislike taking time to shave). In hindsight, I’m not sure I took anything from that experience either, besides a satisfaction in my commitment to do a thing I didn’t like doing for a set period of time. I guess it also helped me get over my sensitivity to being viewed as younger, but that’s also been helped simply by my getting older (though I have been mistaken for a student a few times this year at my new school, and those incidents haven’t bothered me nearly as much as they used to).
All that’s just prologue, really. Since the conversation with my coworker, I spent some time thinking about whether I should give Lent another shot. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere on the blog, my faith has felt pretty torn up as of late. Jumping back into a practice that has a definite period on it seems like a good, small, step towards figuring out what to do about my spiritual life. Pretty much as soon as the subject of Lent was brought up, I felt an inclination to do it. I just had to figure out how I’d like to observe it.
I think the most interesting innovation on Lenten observance that I’ve seen is the addition of some kind of task rather than a specific type of fast. It doesn’t do much for me to give up certain foods or pastimes (most of my free time these days is spent either writing for the blog, knitting, or engaging in small bits of political activism; I feel like I have a very full routine without much that could be considered wasteful or indulgent), so I’ve decided instead that I’m going to spend Lent doing something I haven’t done regularly in a couple of years: read the Bible.
My plan at this point is to set aside fifteen minutes a day to read and reflect. Ideally I’ll be able to convert my reflections into some kind of blog post, but I’m resolved to not go into this exercise with the intent of mining specifically for topics for discussion. Lent is supposed to be a time when you devote a greater part of yourself to meditating on God and Christ’s nature and love.
I’ve started with the Gospel of John, and from there I’ll probably flip around a bit (I haven’t figured out a concrete reading plan for the forty days); I’d like to hit some of the prophets and revisit a few of the epistles. It’ll be interesting to see what comes of this after a prolonged break and a significant shift in worldview.