What exactly is Lent?
Lent is the forty-day liturgical season stretching from Ash Wednesday through to Easter Eve. In 2014 Ash Wednesday falls on March 5, with Easter Day coming on April 20. The forty days, however, are interrupted by the six Sundays that fall within this period, because Sundays are always resurrection days or “little Easters.” What this means is that if you do decide to follow a Lenten discipline, you get a break on Sundays. Still, in our Sunday worship during Lent, we actually “fast” from singing or saying the word “Alleluia,” as a reminder of the larger season in which those Sundays fall.
How is it observed?
Traditionally Lent has been understood as a season of “self-examination, penitence, prayer, fasting, almsgiving, and the reading and meditating on the word of God” (The Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada). In the popular imagination, this has often been reduced to “giving up _______ for Lent”, with the blank filled in by everything from chocolate and doughnuts to dairy and eggs. The emphasis on food has to do with the tradition of fasting during this season, yet giving up some favourite food might not be the discipline that works for everyone. The idea here is to follow a practice for a season, which metaphorically tips your balance just enough to serve as a reminder that you are in a different season. Maybe that is a food or drink item, but it could also be clothes shopping, TV watching, maybe playing the car stereo⎯or plugging into your iPod on the bus⎯during your commute to work or school.
And some people will find it more helpful to take on some extra practice, be that daily reading, journal-writing, or focused daily prayer for some particular concern. The key is to find out what might “work” for you, and to follow it.
Why would I bother?
Seeing Lent as a desert or wilderness season is significant. To move into a bit of symbolic wilderness is to risk finding out something about yourself that maybe makes you a bit uneasy… but it can also teach you something about yourself. So, find a bit of that practice or discipline and follow it through the season. Who knows what you might learn?