(Personal) Spiritual Appropriation: Lent

Buddhism 150Today is the first day of Lent, a 40-day period of fasting and contemplation for those of us who practice Christianity. It begins with Ash Wednesday, where Christians are marked with the ashes of palm leaves that had been blessed during last year’s Palm Sunday and told “From dust you are, and to dust you will return.” Over the next six weeks — ending with Easter Sunday — worshippers engage in prayer, penance, the giving of alms, and self-denial. For most of us who are a bit more secular, Lent is mainly a way to feel a bit better about falling off of our New Year’s Resolutions by vowing to give up a bad habit for 40 days or so.

I’ve always been fascinated by festivals of self-denial and contemplation. Shortly after 9/11, a friend of mine still in high school practiced Ramadan as a show of solidarity with the local Muslim community and I joined in. I learned an awful lot about my relationship with food over that time and just how hard it is to deny yourself something if you’ve gotten used to indulging in it whenever you wanted. As the month went on, I cultivated a significant appreciation of food — getting up before sunrise every morning to make breakfast helped me to spend some time in the quiet, loving the small bit of food I’d take in to last me the rest of the day. And eating at sunset — often with other people — was almost always something special. The whole month brought a mindfulness to eating and gave me a newfound respect and joy when it came to breaking bread with other people. I may not act on the lessons I’ve learned there right now, but I still remember them.

The period of Lent is meant to give Christians a small taste of what it must have been like for Jesus Christ those forty days he wandered in the desert before beginning his public ministry. It’s a way to take a step back, focus on the things that are really important to you, put yourself in a space where you think about things a little differently. The most popular aspect of Lent — self-denial — can still be useful even to those of us who aren’t practicing Christians by showing us just how much we’ve come to rely on certain things and just how little we actually need them.

If you’re Christian and about to embark on the forty-day contemplation of Lent, I wish you a wonderful and holy season. If you’re non-Christian and using this as an opportunity to examine your relationship to something you think you can’t do without, good luck. You absolutely can, and I hope you’ll have a deeper appreciation of yourself and how you work when Easter Sunday rolls around.

Me, I’m going to do my best to give up mindlessness over Lent. It’s a bit of a cheat, but really zeroing in on habitual behaviors — especially when they’re negative — is something I could really use. It’s all right to get some down time, of course; but it’s so much better when that’s a conscious decision I’ve made as opposed to a default behavior I fall into whenever there’s free time. I will do my best to cultivate mindfulness, to speak, write and act with purpose, to strive to make myself, my surroundings and my fellow man better.

Now it’s just a matter of figuring out exactly how to do that! Are any of you giving up something for Lent? What does the observance mean to you? Have I gotten anything wrong in my understanding of it? Let me know in the comments!

2 thoughts on “(Personal) Spiritual Appropriation: Lent

  1. I’ve tried to practice Lent annually for the last 20 or so years, usually doing something unimaginative like the classic giving up meat for 40 days. When I had a boss with celiac disease, I changed to going 40 days without gluten, which I think he appreciated. I learned how challenging it was to remove such a common filler from my diet, just how ubiquitous gluten was in processed food.

    Since then, I’ve tried other things. Going vegan was very challenging, and more upsetting to the body than I had expected. Going sugarless was surprisingly easy. I had considered trying a Ramadan-styled diet like you did, but haven’t committed to one yet. I applaud your choice to try that, especially your motives for it. While I’ve had varying success with my fasts, I’ve always come out of them with more knowledge about myself and often about others. A Ramadan-styled diet seems like a wonderful way to gain appreciation for a world tradition.

    With Furry Fiesta always landing squarely in the Lenten season with its unmatched access to amazing steak restaurants, dietary restrictions have gotten harder for me in recent years. I’m trying something new this year, concentrating on behavior. I’m hoping to go 40 days without speaking negatively of anyone or anything. I don’t know how challenging I’ll find it, or how much I’ll learn from it, but I’ve never failed to gain something from focusing on behavior I don’t commonly do.

    Which is really what it’s about. It is so easy to grow jaded over the things we have, I think it’s vital from time to time to give up something, to remind ourselves of the value of that thing. And I think it’s beautiful that the Christian tradition promotes that with Lent. While I’ll admit I know the tradition through my Christianity, I see benefit from it to anyone, regardless of faith. I try to keep my Lent as secular as possible for that reason.

    1. Hey Carrizo, thanks for replying. 😀

      I think the negativity “fast” is an excellent one precisely because it’s such a surprising head-check. I’ve done something similar to it before, and I was kind of amazed at how MUCH negativity I was throwing out there. I had to constantly stop and reconsider my responses to people, and it’s interesting to note how the tone of your conversation changes — and eventually how your thoughts about people do, too.

      And I agree that any activity that shakes us out of the expectations we’ve set in our lives is a great thing. Even if it’s really difficult while you’re doing it. 😀

      I hope you have a wonderful Lent, and if there’s anything I can do to help with the negativity fast, let me know. 😉

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