Friday, March 3, 2017

Giving up Chocolate for Lent

"Early Spring"
- At the Desert Retreat House -

I recently recalled a vivid childhood memory of the nun who taught me in second grade telling our class that, if we wanted to make God happy, during the season of Lent we should all “give up something we like.” Along with many of my fellow classmates I (reluctantly) decided to give up eating chocolate during the forty days of Lent, but I did wonder why that would make God happy? Did God not like chocolate? Since I liked chocolate so much why would God be happy when I was unhappy?

I remember eagerly anticipating the end of Lent when I could return to my chocolate-eating ways and gorge myself on the bunnies and jelly beans in my Easter basket.

In the Christian calendar the season of Lent has now begun and many people will be 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, it’s 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 even a bit silly, especially if doing so is somehow pleasing to “God;” but I actually think there is merit to the practices of a Lenten discipline. I also believe that people sometimes trivialize Lent by seeing it as a 40-day period for refraining from a candy bar or the glass of wine at dinner, eagerly anticipating the time when they can get back to it all.

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 covers 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 for giving up something that brings me pleasure as it is a refreshing season for 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.

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,  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.

No harm in giving up chocolate for Lent as long as it helps you not to cling so tightly.

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