I had a post telling you about my family crisis — which was an excellent story — but my mother made me remove it.
Instead, I will tell you about Lent.
Lent is the 40 days between Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras) and Easter. During this time, Christians remember the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness. You might remember some of the stories about that; the part with the devil tempting Christ has been in a movie or two recently.
Not all Christians observe Lent, and there are different ways of doing it.
If you are Catholic, you probably have a list of sacrifices. If you are in the group known, at least to themselves, as “mainstream Protestant,” then you probably choose your own sacrifice or discipline for Lent. You may have a group effort or study at your church, or you may choose something in particular to give up or take up, or you may follow any of the many studies published for Lent.
This year, I am doing an online Lenten study. I have done a couple of others in this way, and have found them satisfying.
If you are some other variety of Protestant, you may not observe Lent at all. Baptists, I think, believe that the observation of Lent is not scripturally sound, and they have a point. The Bible does not say anywhere to give up swearing for 40 days every year, after all.
But Lent can be a very good discipline. If you give up something for 40 days, you may go on to give it up entirely. I found, after struggling through 40 days of giving up being critical of people, that it has been much easier ever since not to be critical.
If you give up something only for the 40 days, with no intention of giving it up permanently, it still reminds you to spend some time in contemplation. The year I gave up tea for Lent, I had many opportunities each day, when I wished for a cup of tea, to be reminded to think of all the things Lent is for thinking of. It is easy, in our modern world, to go for hours and even days without taking any time for contemplation, unless we are reminded.
Lent is a time to think about the areas of our lives that need change. Repentance is not about feeling bad. It is about turning away, turning around, turning to something new. This may involve feeling bad about the old way, but it is much more about a new way. Sitting around feeling miserable about your sins is not the point of Lent. Discipline and sacrifice are not considered desirable in 21st century Hamburger-a-go-go-land, but we might be wrong about that. Forty days to consider the possibility is not too long a time.
Lent is also a time to think about God.
And it is a time to think about other people.
Lent falls during the time of year when the people of Europe and the Americas had less food growing in the garden and less meat left from the autumn butchering, and more people went hungry and needed help. Need is not so seasonal any more, in these days of freezing and importing food, but a reminder of the need for charity is never out of season.
If you keep Lent, then I hope you will keep a good Lent this year, along with me. If you do not keep Lent, I hope you will enjoy a few moments today, Ash Wednesday, to consider the philosophical issues that Lent brings to mind.