Ash Wednesday marked the official start of Lent; a 40 day season in the church calendar that is traditionally marked with things like fasting, penitence, reflecting on our mortality, and remembering our humble origins in the dust of the Earth. For some people, language like “fasting” can be very troubling. It is easy for us to misunderstand our Lenten disciplines as something like a Jesusy New Year’s Resolution, intended as a self-improvement venture. Alternatively Lenten disciplines can come with a lot of baggage or guilt. People “give something up for Lent” like chocolate or coffee, almost as a way of punishing themselves by denying themselves simple pleasures in life.
It is important for us to remember that Lent is a season of preparation for Easter. It is not intended to be an individualistic venture to shame us for our perceived vices. Lent and Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us disrupt our own status quo so that we can prepare to experience God in new ways and better love our neighbors. Lenten disciplines ideally are not about denying ourselves for the sake of denial or sacrifice, as if suffering or abstaining from pleasure is somehow inherently redemptive. Instead, Lenten disciplines should turn us outward, towards our fellow human beings and towards justice as a way of preparing ourselves for the resurrection of Christ our Liberator.
If “giving up” chocolate or coffee for Lent doesn’t help you feel closer to God, don’t do it. If it does help you feel closer to God, that is wonderful. Maybe you could consider doing something like donating the money you would usually spend on coffee to a liberation organization or mutual aid fund, or to get a giftcard for someone you know could really use the boost, like a public school teacher. Maybe you could consider reflecting on the ways that systems of oppression like capitalism and white supremacy affect our consumption patterns around chocolate or coffee, educate yourself on the exploitation in those markets, and recommit yourself to doing your part to dismantle systems that cause harm. Maybe instead of “giving up” something, you want to take on something instead; a gratitude practice, a pattern of morning prayer, or extra volunteer hours.
If you would like to talk more about ways to keep the season of Lent, please reach out!
However you mark this Lent, know that you are infinitely loved by the Triune God and by me.