Wednesday, May 24, 2006


Tis the season of Lent for some of us Organized Religious Types: Catholics, of course, and a bunch of Protestant faiths, including mine, the Episcopal church, (AKA Catholic Light or Whiskeypalians). A lot of people don't like it, for various reasons. Probably first among those is that it's kind of a depressing time: There's a lot of somber reflection, and it seems that both somberness and reflection are fully capable of making the faithful uncomfortable... For me, it means giving up something I like for those 40 days, (Hard liquor this year), going to more services than I normally do, (Wednesdays added), and trying to do more Bible and Lenten reflection reading, (I'm not so good at that...). It also means I have to choose the music for our folk service a bit more carefully, because there ain't no Halleluiahs allowed for them 40 days...

Webster's dictionary defines Lent as, 'A fast of 40 days, beginning with Ash Wednesday and continuing until Easter, observed by some Christian churches as commemorative of the fast of our Savior' - That's a pretty good take on it, but too faith-specific for me, frankly. Dig a little deeper into the roots of the word and some interesting stuff comes to light: The Old English, Germanic, and French roots of Lent, Leynte, Lenz, and Lang, respectively, mean 'Spring' and 'Long', and harkens from the fact that the days get longer during this time of year. Whether one is Christian, Anamist, Pagan, or devout Agnostic, Spring does bring a sense of renewed growth and is celebrated in probably every culture. Without getting too deep, I think it's safe to say that the stirrings of the earth likely ellicit similiar vibes in humankind, and bends both toward a sense of renewal. It makes sense to be reflective in a season of new growth. I am always a bit more melancholy, yet profoundly moved in a spiritual sense during Lent - I like it, in fact, and I think it's a good thing. maybe this season is why I'm questioning what I do for life, work, avocation, etc, and coming to realize that time is growing short...

Lent doesn't have a lot fans among Christians. If you're a regular church goer, you begin to recognize sub-groups of attendees. My family has been Anglican or Episcopal for many generations: My dad grew up at a time when our church was pretty dark and negative, so he just didn't like going. As such, he became what we call a 'W & F Christian' - That'd be your Wedding and Funeral church goer. The more common sub-group is your 'C & E Christians,' or your Christmas and Easter attendees. You do not find much of anybody who joyously just shows up at Lent, and most folks don't refer to the season as being celebrated, - Putting up with, or suffering through would probably be closer to the mark.

Nonetheless, Lent can and should be celebrated; it's like spring cleaning for the soul. I think it's just a matter of looking at it differently than we usually do. If we see Lent as a time to see the familiar with different eyes, it's a good thing - That might mean really looking at your wife, husband, life partner, kids, friends, or family-at-large and seeing what wonderful people they are, and maybe realizing that we take some of that for granted and shouldn't... It's also a time to reflect on suffering: I believe that this mass media influenced world in which we live leads us to tune the suffering of others out, and we shouldn't always do that. Violence, oppression, discrimination, illness, and war are all forms of suffering, and if we're going to fight them, we have to rekindle our revulsion and objection to such things. I don't think a people can really rise up without a healthy dose of righteous indignation about the things we're no longer willing to let anyone suffer.

First and foremost among good Lenten habits is self-reflection. Seeing where we've been, where we are, and asking ourselves honesty where we want to be is the catalyst for change; without it we go nowhere. Recognition of that is important, but allowing ourselves to be transformed is perhaps more so. To me, it is that honest reflection, year after year, that allows me to weave the threads of my own small story into the larger tapestry of life. Knowing when to change direction, or color, or fabric, or weave, is a gift that too few of us seek and find. I know I need to change, I know I want to. The uncertainty scares me, but it's also a thrill. Sometimes it's that little bit of pain, or that fear of uncertainty, that lets us know we're alive.

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