I’ve always loved Ash Wednesday, the day Lent begins in the Christian calendar. I like hearing the words, “Remember you are dust, and to dust you will return.” I like walking around with a black smudge on my forehead and having people stare and wonder if they should tell that poor woman she has something on her face. I like having a season to focus on some of the themes I try to apply to my exterior life — simplifying, connecting more deeply, letting go — and applying them to my interior life.
Of course, another part of me doesn’t like Ash Wednesday, because I tend to have grand ideas for Lent that are subsequently forgotten; and then, about halfway through the season, I remember some of them again, call Lent a big failure, and hope for a better one next year.
Because of this tendency, I’ve learned a few lessons about planning for the season, and this year that means keeping it extra simple — because that’s about all I can handle. That said, in the spirit of Lent — which focuses on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving — I always stay away from anything I consider decadent: I don’t eat sweets or desserts; I don’t drink alcohol; I limit snack foods. (I do this a lot anyway, though, so it’s not a big sacrifice, frankly.) I also don’t shop for anything I don’t need, and I try to be disciplined about little things as they pop up. This year, what I go without will remind me of my experiences in Ethiopia and the circumstances that brought our wonderful daughters to us. That alone will prove a good meditation.
Lent is about a lot more than giving stuff up, of course, and I think it’s often more difficult — and transformative — to take something on or to change a habit. Some people choose to pray more often, do volunteer work, give more to charity, or work on a routine (like getting up earlier or exercising). I usually read something spiritual through Lent, too — a book of meditations, a classic spiritual memoir, the Bible…whatever calls to me that year. The bummer is that I already had something in mind to read this Lent, and I now forget what it was. Sigh. I’ll probably remember at Easter, of course.
I find it interesting that plenty of people who don’t identify as Christian or regularly attend church like to observe Lent. There’s just something about a season like this that appeals to anyone who wants to strive to be better — and that’s most of us.
Are you observing Lent this year? Anything unusual you’re planning to give up or take on?
Image: Nanny Snowflake