reflections on Lent in today’s world
Many Christians (mostly Catholics, but some Protestants and Orthodox as well) will think to give up things for the duration of the Lenten season, that period that began yesterday on Ash Wednesday and ends with Easter Sunday several weeks hence. I guess the idea is that giving up things that a person enjoys is a humbling experience or is like doing penance for past sins (transgressions). Here are some of my thoughts, worth a penny or two.
By the way, I heard a couple of years back that the term Lent referred to lengthening. The days are getting longer in late winter and early spring for the majority of humanity that lives north of the equator.
As I mentioned to my wife a few nights ago, Carnaval (in Brasil) and Mardi Gras (in New Orleans, USA) – where people indulge in debauchery, roistering, and carousing prior to giving up such sensual pleasures for Lent – really defeat the purpose.
What is worth giving up that might make us better human beings? Or, from a Christian perspective, better Christians?
Mortification of the flesh, asceticism, austerities, life long celibacy, renunciation of the world, etc., are these really necessary for a person to become more loving of God and one’s fellow human beings? I think not. But, making a false god out of sensual pleasures is wrong as we were created for a higher purpose than mere sense gratification. We are spirit souls temporarily confined to a physical body.
I live in the real world. (It is not very pretty.) Thus, I do not have the perspective of those who are as anchorites in a monastic cell, or are living in a cave on a distant mountain.
Instead of giving up dessert after each dinner for several weeks, how about letting go, or at least working at letting go, of one or more of your character flaws?
Anger, greed, lust and pride serve to make us demanding and impatient (and ego-centric). These (deadly sins) blind us to the fact that the world was not created for “me” the individual. The world is for all 7 billion of us, and for those future generations to come. (We need to expand our consciousness here, and be less self-centered.) Try letting go of these negatives and work at cultivating some positives such as patience, humility, kindness, generosity and respect for others. This is not easy to do, but making a little effort each day can help one to cultivate these positive traits or virtues.
Why do this? Why make the effort, you ask?
There are many people in the world that know the letter of the law, but miss the spirit of the law. Too many people readily quote chapter and verse of the Bible to others, but sadly do not live truly loving lives. This idea that faith alone saves one is for the Pharisees in our midst. How does one demonstrate that he/she really has the faith if one does not perform loving acts, loving service (bhakti, devotional service) to God and to others?!
Be an authentic Christian. Be an example and an inspiration to those who need to be gently nudged to living their faith rather than merely giving lip service to it in church for an hour or two on Sundays. (Expand and raise your consciousness, your consciousness of God in your life, by and through love.)
It is worth stressing: If you want to give up something meaningful, then give up your anger, your hate, your impatience, your ego-centric way of living that demands so much of others, and is unrealistic. Do not pick these things back up when Lent is over.
What can you do that might make a positive difference in someone’s life? Start at home with your family. If you are single and by yourself, start with your friends, neighbors and co-workers. Then, expand your circle of caring and charity a little further. If you are unemployed, you can volunteer your time, even if it is just an hour or two each week. Help an elderly person with her/his grocery shopping. Help out at a shelter for battered wives and abandoned children in your city. Visit those in hospital. You do not have to bring a patient a gift. Your company for an hour can brighten a person’s day. Alternatively, if time is more scarce than dollars for you, consider making a financial contribution to those charities that are actually helping people in need in your community, or across the world where there are many people in need.
When Lent is over, please do not pick back up the heavy baggage of character flaws that you let go of during this time. And, make every day count in some small way with a little kindness, a little humor, something positive. You will not change the world, but you can brighten at least a few individuals’ lives, and that is rewarding in itself!
To be honest, I will not be giving up chocolate chip cookies for Lent. And, I will mix myself a few drinks with whiskey over this time. However, I will work at being a more loving person. It will not be easy, but perseverance may yield progress.