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.
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.