Earlier I had mentioned that we never did the whole Lent thing. After talking about it further, I realized that it was necessary to really look at what others do for Lent to consider whether or not we were going to follow through.
The Catholics are probably the most well-known when it comes to celebrating Lent. It starts on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday, just before Easter. It lasts for forty days, excluding Sundays. It is forty days because Jesus spent forty days fasting and praying in the wilderness. Lent is traditionally a time of fasting, the rules concerning this has changed over the centuries. Fast days include: Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, Good Friday, and on the day that Jesus was crucified. On fast days, only one full meal may be eaten, and two smaller meals can be eaten as well, but no snacks are permitted. Many abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, though fish is often allowed. Depending on the region, the tradition is to veil icons and images in purple cloth, the color of Lent. Just before the beginning of Easter, the color of the cloth might be switched to black to symbolize mourning.
Lent is a time to refocus ones effort on prayer, on fasting, and on charity.
Prayer, devotionals, Bible studies, etc. Lent is an ideal time to speak to and listen to God as well as study the Word and contemplate it’s mysteries. It’s a time to repair one’s spiritual relationship and to think more deeply about spirituality that one might day in and day out.
Many Christians in general give up a vice or something beloved like chocolate or sugar for forty days and add in a virtue like intentionally being patient or eating carrots. Fasting is still a solid choice; some fast from typical American fare and eat simpler meals such as rice, which our third world brothers and sisters in the faith would eat daily. Fasting from extravagance and focusing on simplicity also works. Self-denial is the idea, to say no to worldliness.
“At once the Spirit sent him out into the wilderness, and he was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. He was with the wild animals, and angels attended him.” – Mark 1:12-13
Charity or alms-giving are also good options. After all, scripture says that two rules matter most: loving God and loving your neighbor. Lent is an opportunity to live out these two principles. There’s no shortage of ways to be charitable, from volunteering, to collecting jackets or food to give away, and to raising funds to donate.
Lent is a very personal season in Christianity, something that each person should consider for themselves whether or not to carry on the tradition – especially if you’re from a denomination that didn’t really teach it in the first place. Sometimes some elements of it are useful even outside of Lent – taking a spiritual inventory, focusing on strengthening your relationship with God and with others, for example. It is a time to take away distractions and to prepare for the implications of Easter.
Having learned a lot more about it, I respect these traditions and I’m truly sorry that the leaders of my previous denomination didn’t them worth teaching, but at least I know about them now and just might have a proper Lent season come next year.