Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Trivializing Lent

"First Signs of Spring"
- along a wilderness trail -

In the Christian calendar the season of Lent begins tomorrow and so today many folks will be eating pancakes or celebrating Mardi Gras and tomorrow they will begin a forty day period of giving something up for Lent. Some people may give up a favorite food or a favorite beverage, others will refrain from eating meat on Friday, others may take on the task of saying a few extra prayers. Then, after 40 days, when Easter finally arrives,  its time to break out the candy and alcohol once again, no more extra prayers or extra time at church.

If you don’t celebrate Lent the practice of giving something up may seem somewhat bizarre or perhaps a bit silly. I actually think there is merit to the practices of a Lenten discipline, but I also believe that more often than not many people trivialize Lent if they only see it as a 40 day period for refraining from a chocolate bar or the glass of wine at dinner.

Interestingly enough, the word Lent comes from an “Old English” word that essentially means springtime. At this time of year “spring is in the air” even if the winter snow and ice still cover the ground - the sap in the trees has already begun to flow. Out here in the desert the first signs of  spring are everywhere - little yellow blossoms can be found all along the wilderness trails.

So, for me, this season of Lent is a good time to do some “spring cleaning” when it comes to a spiritual path. For me, Lent is not so much a dreary season of giving up as it is a refreshing season of cleaning up, cleaning out, and letting go.

The Buddha taught that clinging too tightly to anything in our life is a cause of our deepest suffering. Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, puts it this way:

Letting go gives us freedom.
If in our heart we still cling to anything,
we cannot be free.

Catholic priest and author, Richard Rohr, says:

Once we see what is trapping us in our lives,
we should see the need to let it go.
True liberation is letting go of our false self, letting go of our cultural biases.
Freedom is letting go of obsessively wanting more and better things.
Freedom is letting go of our need to control and manipulate others.
Freedom is letting go of our need to be always be right.


As I enter into this Lenten time of spring cleaning the main question I am asking myself is what is trapping me in my life?

Am I being held prisoner by the anxieties and fears that I still cling to? It’s time to let them go. Do my possessions and things possess me?  It’s time not to cling so tightly. What ideas do I hold so rigidly that no one can even talk to me about another way? This is a season for me not to always be “so right.” Are there people in my life who I hold so tightly because I want to control them for my own ends? It’s time to let go of that need to control.

It seems to me that far from being a season that only belongs to observant Christians (perhaps even a somewhat trivialized time),  this springtime season of Lent can be a holy, life-changing time for anyone on any path to deeper peace and greater freedom in their lives.

There is a saying attributed to the Buddha:

In the end these things matter most,
How well did you love?
How fully did you live?
How deeply did you let go?

These are probably some great questions to ask during Lent.

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