"What are you giving up for Lent?"
That's the question on everyone's lips right now. Of course, as I write this, Mardi Gras is in full effect in cities all over the world, as people indulge one last time before their Lenten sacrifices and fasts. But the question is still there: "What are you giving up for Lent?"
I used to say, "I'm a Baptist; I'm giving up self-denial for Lent." But then I stopped to think about it, and I pretty much gave that up a long time ago (as did many of my fellow Baptists — "rare as a Baptist sermon on gluttony" is a common expression in some places, and it's unfortunately quite true). And lately, I've been giving a lot of thought to the Church Calendar, and how it might not be a bad idea to 'celebrate' some of the lesser-known church holidays. I've been remembering Maundy Thursday for almost three years now, so I figured it was time to expand my own liturgical calendar. And what better time than Lent?
But what to give up?
The more I thought about it, the more I realized that the idea of self-sacrifice, while noble and worthwhile, was beginning to overshadow what Lent was all about. It seems that Christians are very good at creating ceremonies that end up overshadowing the event commemorated. The purpose of Lent is to prepare the observant for Holy Week. It has always been designed to be a time of contemplation, worship, and prayer leading up to the celebration of Christ's resurrection; fasting and "self-sacrifice" was never a means unto itself, but a part of the prayer and worship that went into the season. The denial was intended to remind you to pray — rather than do whatever you're giving up, you pray, or meditate. Historically, the fasts have been proscribed by church officials and canon law in the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church, rather than being voluntary. Dietary restrictions are frequently enforced — which is why many fast food restaurants run specials on their fish sandwiches during Lent.
But I'm not Catholic, so the question remains — what to give up?
People are giving up Facebook for Lent. I like my Facebook account just fine, but I'm not that attached to it; I can (and sometimes do) go days without checking it. It would be easy, but that defeats the purpose.
People are giving up email, or the Internet. Can't do that; I've got too much that I do each day that has to be done via the Internet and email. I'd lose my job if I tried that, even for 40 days.
Food would be a good idea; my wife opined this morning that they must have named Fat Tuesday after me. But I've always thought it was cheating to use a holy fast to try to lose weight; it misses the point. So no to that one, too.
Finally I decided that I would give up something easily as precious as anything I've mentioned: time. Lent is meant to prepare you spiritually for the celebration of the Resurrection, so I am taking that seriously. Each day, a pause: contemplation, prayer, meditation, study. Being the church history geek that I am, I've chosen a Lenten reading schedule based on the writings of the fathers of the Early Church. I look forward to reading these writings in preparation for the celebration of Christianity's greatest holy day.