Monday, February 20, 2012

Lent: Going into the Desert

The Holy Season of Lent begins in just a little over 24 hours.  This is the most solemn time of the Christian year leading up to the most solemn day of the year - Good Friday, commemorating the death of our Lord, and then to the most glorious day - Easter Sunday, the resurrection of the Lord.   I will be sharing my Lenten experiences as best as I can here. 

But before beginning my journey into the spiritual desert of Lent, I want to post what the New York Times has to say.  Yes, that's right - the secular paper of record.  I hear and read of what different people plan to do during Lent.  Some say it's not a time to give up anything, but to go out and do good.  No, that is not what Lent is about.  Certainly doing good is something a Christian should always strive to do, but that is not the focus of Lent.  Lent is about forsaking our lives on this earth and striving for the spiritual. 

The New York Times explains it very well:

February 18, 2012
In a Lenten Season

Some may think of Lent as a time to make up for the excesses of Mardi Gras. But Lent, which begins Wednesday, isn’t a time of recovery. To Christians, it’s a 40-day season of preparation for Easter, the holiest day in the liturgical year. But the idea of Lent can be embraced by all of us, religious or otherwise.

“What are you giving up for Lent?” is something you hear from all sorts of people. Yet there’s something tricky about the secular notion of Lent. You give up something personally important, so its absence will remind you of your purpose in giving it up, but not so important that it disrupts life much. You give up chocolate, but not refrigeration. Bread, but not the Internet. Coffee, but not “Downton Abbey.” Americans are not a naturally ascetic people, and it shows. Fasting lies at the heart of Lent, and most of us are not fasters. We choose our Lenten sacrifices from a very short menu.

But what if this were really a season for renunciation, even for non-believers? In the ancestral stories of nearly every culture, wisdom comes from the bare places, from deserts and dry mountains. The season of Lent itself is based on a “wilderness” — the one in which Jesus fasted for 40 days after his baptism.

It’s common to read this story and others like it as though the wilderness were little more than a blank backdrop. I read it a different way. Wisdom comes from the bare places because they force humility upon us. In these Lenten places, where life thrives on almost nothing, we can see clearly how large a shadow modern life and consumption cast upon the earth. In secular terms, Lent seems the opposite of Christmas — “What are you giving up?” versus “What are you getting?” Perhaps it might be a season in which to learn the value of abstention and to consider how to let the bare places flourish, or even simply to exist.
There is a certain wisdom in this, and one which, I'm afraid, many Christians and, in particular, Catholics reject. But as Christians we need to take Lent further than the goals of the above article. Lent isn't about merely letting barren places flourish. It is about getting rid of whatever it is that separates us from God, shedding whatever is keeping us "earthbound." We go into the desert, leaving behind all our physical comforts, all of our security blankets, everything that we cling to on this earth and learn to embrace the spiritual. We empty ourselves not so we are barren, but so that Christ can fill us with Himself.

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