It may seem a strange thing for a professional religious person to say but I just don’t get Lent. For those of you of no particular religious persuasion, Lent is the forty day period leading up to Easter, not counting Sundays. It began last Wednesday.
The forty days represent the time Jesus spent in the wilderness, fasting, enduring temptations and preparing to begin his ministry. Traditionally, Christians are supposed to give up something pleasurable for Lent, like chocolate, swearing, cigarettes or beer. To abstain is a practice of self-denial, a small way of reminding believers about the suffering and death of Jesus as we move toward Easter.
Growing up as a low-church Protestant in a church with a strong puritanical streak, Lent was never mentioned. Not that there was much to give up. We didn’t drink alcohol, we didn’t smoke, swear, or gamble. While these days there are two of these four things I could consider giving up and there is always chocolate, it just doesn’t grab me as something that is going to improve my spiritual life.
But Lent is firmly part of the Christian year and I feel I should find some way of observing it. So I’ve been reading how some people have gone back to the underlying motivations for the season and asking what is it that we need to do to rebalance our lives, to make room for what is important.
You see the time Jesus spent in the desert fasting was not about self-denial for its own sake. It was about gaining clarity about the scope and content of his ministry. His was to be a short time in public ministry and even he had only 24 hours in a day. Was he going to fill his days doing this or that? How much of this? How much of that? How would he face the temptations to compromise his principles?
So this Lent I’m considering taking something distracting out of my life and replacing it with a practice that is more life-giving. For instance, I’ve heard of people who leave social media for Lent and replace the time spent online with reading spiritual books, journal writing and prayer.
Replacing a time-consuming distraction with an often-ignored practice is not necessarily about denial. Instead, this kind of choice balances us, putting us back in touch with slower, more intentional ways of life. Not only do I have only so much time in a 24 hour day but now I am in my early sixties I know I only have so many years of active life ahead. Lent offers the opportunity to consider how and on what I spend that precious resource.
For the past six months I have spent so much time thinking about how the world has gone to rack and ruin. I have followed closely the rise and rise of Donald Trump and of Pauline Hanson. It seems that every morning and night my mind is filled with one dangerous, unhinged or outrageous act or statement from one or the other of these right wing populist politicians. Like some bacterial infection they have colonised my brain, poisoned my soul and I am the worse for it. So I’m giving up Trump for Lent. I’m giving up Pauline for Lent. I will not read, I will not watch, I will not listen to the daily banter, news and commentary. I plan to re-balance my soul. I will think about what’s important. I will think about what builds up a community. I will think about what it is that I should do with my time in this world.
This is the gospel, and it’s good news.
Brian Spencer, Minister