Tuesday, March 8, 2011

for Lent I'm going to watch more Johnny Depp movies.

The season of Lent is upon us; in fact, it starts tomorrow. Traditionally, I have pondered the idea of Lent with a wary but prominent squint in my eye. The first time I remember hearing about Lent was during my freshman year at Bible College nearly 10 years ago; it was all the rage, in fact. We learned about it in chapel. We talked about it in class. We discussed with fervency what we’d be giving up: in the halls, in our dorm rooms, and over steaming piles of sauce-laden cafeteria food. I played the part; nodded along at the right moments, threw out suggestions as needed, feigned interest. But really I wondered, “what is the point?” To me, it seemed more of a contest or bragging right than a genuine spiritual movement among the student body.

This was back in the day before Facebook existed, when we were IM and Messenger and text message and cell phone free; it was a simpler time, and therefore, it was harder to think of something to “give up” for Lent. I will always remember the Second Semester Student (already in a socially awkward position, entering the tightnit clan halfway through the year) that decided to give up talking for Lent. I remember it because he joined the student body right around the time that Lent started; so when I introduced myself and he stared blankly at me, it made a mark in my subconscious. Thankfully, his neighbour translated for him, informing me of the sacrifice. “Cool” I said, unsure of where to go next, knowing conversation would be impossible. I wondered if he would really do it; if he would really start a new school and not talk for the first six weeks after his arrival.

He didn’t. Actually, he got made fun of so badly, that I don’t think he lasted more than a week at it (if that). And I think that’s the other reason he stuck to my memory; here was this guy that none of us knew, doing something he felt was significant in his spiritual walk, getting ridiculed belligerently by his dorm mates (both in front of and behind his back). Meanwhile, these were the folks that were giving up chocolate, or carbs, or music – things that, to me, seemed equally as preposterous as not talking for a month and a half. Who eats so much chocolate that they forget to pray? I'm pretty sure the chocolate isn't your issue. So the idea that Lent was a spiritual exercise got lost on me. Sure I heard it in class, but I had yet to see it worked out as something sacred, quiet, private, humble, or genuinely sacrificial – as it was apparently intended to be. To me, it seemed more like a game; a test of the will against the will – not necessarily a test of the spirit.

So, with Lent starting tomorrow, I am faced again (as I am every year) with the decision on whether or not I will participate in this ancient ritual. When people ask me (as they are inevitably going to ask me) what I am giving up for Lent, what will I say? Truth be told, I still don’t know. Every year I consider the exercise and every year I struggle to find something worth the apparent valiance. My understanding, from what we learned in class, was that Lent was meant to be a spiritual exercise; a giving up of the Earthly and a replacing with the Holy. But what is it really? Let’s go to the Source of All Knowing Knowledge, Wikipedia.

There are traditionally forty days in Lent which are marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and by other acts of penance. The three traditional practices to be taken up with renewed vigour during Lent are prayer (justice towards God), fasting (justice towards self), and almsgiving (justice towards neighbour). Today, some people give up a vice of theirs, add something that will bring them closer to God, and often give the time or money spent doing that to charitable purposes or organizations.

One of my favourite movies of all time is Chocolat. It takes place in a small, dull French village. The people of the town are both appalled and mystified when Vianne Rocher, the travelling beauty, opens a choclaterie on the first day of Lent. There are a few reasons why I love this movie – the aesthetics, the accents, the chocolate, the Johnny Depp – but more than these first three, I am always captivated by the obvious juxtaposition between the Obligatory and the Felt. This movie shows quite clearly that duty for the sake of obligation is life killing; while duty for the sake of Love is something quite the opposite. Here in this small town, from the unlikeliest of sources, we learn that Love is a better motivator than rule.

In the Wiki definition, the traditional practices of Lent are to “renew with vigour” prayer, fasting, and giving to others. Three things that, at their base, are not about “me” so much as they are about (as indicated in the brackets) Justice. Their emphasis is not on “giving up” but on doing. Something about “Today”’s version of Lent doesn’t quite fit – me first, God second, justice as an afterthought.

So, what am I going to give up for Lent, you ask? It might not be any one thing; it might be nothing; though I do have a few ideas. But then the question comes, would I be giving these up for Lent? Or am I giving these up for me? I am the queen of impulsive, quickly retracted decisions (um. Have you read my blog?), and as such, anything I do decide to commit to during this season will be kept a tightly wound secret. Blame my pride.

I do wonder though, if I should forget the “give up” definition altogether; to move closer to tradition, and take something up, instead. Live with fervour instead of laze, perhaps (like tradition suggests); balance the challenge of an addition instead of the relative ease of subtraction. Spend less time in my head and more time giving my time to other people. Now, this is a Lent I can get on board with.

Oh – for those of you giving up chocolate? I’m not.

That was a hint.


alisha said...

Interesting thoughts, Ash. I too kind of "miss the Lent boat" every year - but this really gives me something to think about. I especially love this part:
"I do wonder though, if I should forget the “give up” definition altogether; to move closer to tradition, and take something up, instead. Live with fervour instead of laze, perhaps (like tradition suggests); balance the challenge of an addition instead of the relative ease of subtraction. Spend less time in my head and more time giving my time to other people. Now, this is a Lent I can get on board with."

You're right - Lent has really become about us and not God in some ways, hasn't it? Thanks for the challenge, friend :)

.................................................................. said...

I have never ONCE participated in Lent, primarily for the reasons you mentioned. Most of the people I knew used Lent as a spiritual way to diet. I find it is a social game where you get to brag about your piety, when the very essence of Lent is bastardized....

Lindsey said...

Hahahahahahaha! I don't remember the guy who gave up talking for Lent. I'm thinking that was the year before I came? I'll have to ask Ben about it.

When Ben was a Pastor I fought the trend to "do" Lent. I thought it was dumb and a "look at me, I'm so Spiritual and cool" kind of thing to do.
Now that we are in a Southern Baptist church and everyone isn't "doing" Lent, I decided to give it a go. How can I use this time to deepen my relationship with Christ. I actually don't even know if people in our Church know what Lent is!
I feel like I've really gotten a lot out of my Lent commitment this year. I'm excited about it.Esther takes two naps a day so I get in two good bible readings/devotionals when I am nursing/rocking her. When I'm rocking and nursing her before bed I use that time to pray. I've never have done this before. I know it's sad, but I would just dink around on my phone and Facebook while I was nursing her.

Mama said...

Golly, I never knew what Lent was. No one ever taught it or even mentioned it in any church I attended. I assumed it was a Jewish thing...
It sounds like a great challenge that I need to look into. I think it would be important though, like you, to not tell anyone but God about what you are "giving up" or "taking up." I agree that "doing" is so much more important.
I have also found that the biggest problems arise from living too deeply inside my own head. Lent could be a good practice for the whole year.