Ash Wednesday is sexy. At least, in comparison to the rest of Lent. We’ve gone through the excess of Tuesday and have become painfully self-aware on Wednesday. We’ve all felt very communal and together and we’ve gotten over our hangovers and we’ve washed our faces and now everything has the potential to go back to our routines. Two crazy days in the middle of the week and now we have our lives to get back to. Our schedules were disrupted and we have things to do. We want to make up for lost time.
But Lent is disruption – long term disruption. Forty days worth. It starts with a sudden party that gets hit with a thunderstorm. And now it’s Friday and Lent is officially in full swing. So if we take Tuesday and Wednesday seriously, and we’re over the afterglow of Thursday, then Friday is one of the hardest days. We have to ask ourselves the question, “Are we going to do this?” Are we really going to maintain a mindfulness in though, word, and deed about what we have done and what we have left undone, about who we are, who we’ve been, and who we’re becoming? In the wake of all the glitz and glamour of Tuesday and Wednesday, what do we do now?
For some, Lent is a kind of redux mini-New Year. A time for resolutions for self-bettering through self-denial. Chocolate. Alcohol. Internet. Whatnot. And through this self-denial, we will encounter suffering in the form of mild discomfort with the hope to achieve becoming closer to what matters in life. If only for a little time. But what if Lent were actually something else and not just an annual Ironman contest?
Lent is an adverb. It’s not what we do. It’s how we do it. Lent, from the Latin lente, meaning “slowly”, means to take time, to reflect for a season, not just a day. In our hyperspeed world, “slowly” is not a word we like. It’s not about suddenly giving up things, but rather it’s about thinking more about everything. Actions are heavier during Lent.
What is the purpose of self-denial for a season if it doesn’t change us? Giving up something for Lent then devolves into a staring contest with ourselves. Will we blink? If so, does that mean cake? Because I gave up cake for Lent and I really want cake right now. Lent can’t be about giving up cake. It’s about how we treat cake in our lives, the identity and role of cake in our lives. What is cake for us?
For me, Lent is instilling new ways of living, of habits. By the end of Lent, I should not only be acting differently, but thinking about and comprehending differently whatever it is I have focused on. There should be a kind of transformation by the end, since Lent ends in a weekend of transformation.
Lent is hard. It’s about running into ourselves and pressing against ourselves – as if we were leaning against a mirror – to become intimately aware of our textures, our outlines, our weights, our forces, and our edges. And that way we find out what we’re made of. It’s a time of foibles, learning again how we’re our own worst enemies. The trick is how we’re going to handle that. Are we going to handle these forty days bringing down the law on ourselves or will we be gracious about it? But before we can get to that, we have to figure out what we’re going to do with ourselves – and not just what we’re going to do, but who we’re going to be with ourselves. And maybe that’s the harder part.