Here we are, already in the second week of Lent (or maybe the 105th week of Lent). As always at this time of year, I’ve been mulling over why this season is important in spiritual practice.
I was raised in a “Christian” setting that disdained all religious traditions, so I didn’t even know what Lent was about until my 30’s when I began exploring the Catholic expression of faith. For those who don’t know what Lent is about, it’s the 40 days before Easter when adherents are encouraged to “fast” from something that is typically part of daily life. The purpose of this varies according to who is talking. Some say it is to help us experience solidarity with those who have less than we do. Others say it is to help simplify our lives so we can focus more intently on the mystery of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Still others say that choosing some form of deprivation helps prepare us for the joy and wonder of Easter.
For me, the concept of sacrificing some pleasure in my daily life because of a date on the calendar just doesn’t translate. I appreciate the general idea of following the seasons of the religious calendar, and of having certain disciplines and practices to form the framework of my inner life.
Where it breaks down in my experience is the intention of creating some form of deprivation for myself. I understand that for some people, this practice is valuable and spiritually nourishing. So far, for me, it has not been.
It links back to my formative years when what I was taught about relating to the Divine always had to do with somehow making myself good enough to earn His approval. (Yes, the male pronoun was always used.) It was a tricky situation to be sure. On the one hand, I was taught that God loved me just as I was and that there was nothing I could do to make Him love me less or more. On the other hand, the list of things that I could do, say and be that would earn His disapproval was extensive, and His disapproval always meant that He would withdraw His Presence until I repented. Even now as a maturing adult, I hear in those memories, “It’s easy to displease God, and when He is displeased, He pulls away until you convince Him how sorry you are.” That’s emotional abuse, not love, and I resist those echoes.
Then recently, I read an article which suggested that we, as North Americans, don’t know how to fast because we don’t know how to feast. The connection was made to diet culture in which any time we feast, we feel we have to “work it off”, or feel guilty for having enjoyed “forbidden” foods.
And yet, feasting is an important part of all three Abrahamic religions—Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Feasting is never something that is earned, but is rather an expression of joy and gratitude for what has been freely given, whether it is deliverance from danger (Judaism), gifts of soul (Islam), or gifts of the Christ-Presence (Christianity). Both Christianity and Judaism also celebrate the seasons of the year in various forms, with feasts to celebrate cyclical aspects of daily life. The commonality is that they are all celebrations of what is given by the earth or by the Creator, rather than what is earned through my own hard work.
As I ponder the significance of feasting, I feel how it informs fasting. When I live from an inner place of trust in the extravagant abundance of Divine Love (imagine the wide-open arms of a loving grandmother greeting her grandchildren), then fasting becomes a way of paying attention, rather than a reminder of what I can’t have. Fasting can actually remind me of what is nourishing, abundant and good.
At this time in my life, I don’t need any help remembering suffering, deprivation and sorrow. The first pandemic lockdowns in my province happened at the beginning of Lent 2020, and it feels like life has been an unending Lent ever since. Isolations and restrictions have eased, then returned with a vengeance, carrying with them increased soul-weariness each time. Simultaneously, political and climate events around the world have added to the sense of unrelenting mourning.
I need help remembering that light and love and laughter are also given. I need help remembering how to feast my heart on what is comforting and uplifting. This year, my Lenten practice is cultivating lightness in myself—playing with creative projects in my sewing room or kitchen, taking time to connect with a friend or actively paying attention when something makes me laugh. I am also choosing to get out of bed a little earlier each morning so I can notice the sunrise, whether it’s just a wash of light, or a vibrant display of colour. This isn't about ignoring pain and struggle, but rather cultivating joy alongside the suffering.
I know some would be offended that I choose “feasting” as my Lenten practice, and that’s okay. This is how I’m #rememberingmytruth … reminding myself of the little feasts in my life amid the chaos and turbulence of being alive at this time in history.
And thank you to my friend and fellow spiritual director, Robert Dueck, who has been posting daily pictures of beauty as his Lenten practice. Please visit his website at https://greaterlight.ca/2022/03/09/gallery-of-daily-photos-lent-2022/