Yup, it is now officially Lent.
For most folks I know (including many in the church), Lent isn't all that big a deal. I must admit that in a way, I am right there with them. Lent sneaks up on a person. There is so much to do in "normal" life and--since Easter doesn't have the same commercial requirements as Christmas--there isn't the same sense of panic about getting everything done in time. Also, there is the theme. Lent is about introspection, sacrifice, and connecting to the Divine (whatever that may be for you). Those are non-starters compared to other religious holidays. For most of us, accountability stinks a bit.
However, I have gotten a lot out of Lent in the "giving things up" or "taking things on" department. My approach--perhaps not surprisingly--is from the perspective of what the Transcendentalists (among others) call "self-culture" which is a fancy way of saying self-directed self-improvement. The fact is, Lent is a much more efficient time for resolutions than the new year. First of all, spring is coming so we are feeling more energetic. Also, it is a religious holiday, so there is a sense of sacred responsibility that is harder to generate while hung over on New Year's Day.
Finally, there is the unit of time. Forty days just works better when you are trying a new thing. On Easter morning I look back at my Lenten efforts and decide which life-changes I am bringing with me and which ones were fine for six weeks, but not forever. Lent is when I took my first music lesson as an adult (mandolin), for example. It is also when I decided to learn everything I could about Abraham Lincoln. I still play music every day. The Lincoln thing has died down substantially.
This year I am focusing on three things, which no doubt I will tell you about here or in church over the next month or so. First, I always take on some esoteric study project that I know I will like (as with "Old Abe" last year). This year it is Bronson Alcott. Second, I am trying to get back in shape. I have never been--shall we say--"affirmed" when it comes to physical activity so it is a challenge for me to exercise in public. The problem is that I won't do it when I am alone. I have an accountability issue in this part of life apparently. Therefore I have signed myself up for Jiu Jitsu twice a week. In fact it has already started and it hurts like Hell. Only forty more days...
On a related note, this year I have decided to give up alcohol for a while. It is a challenge for me. There are all kinds of reasons to do it. Most pressingly, every beer I don't drink is weight that won't be slamming down on the mat with me in Jiu Jitsu class. There are other reasons, too. On a personal level, if we say that we can stop drinking any time, shouldn't that be a hypothesis that gets tested occasionally? It is a good thing to do in the more "traditional" sense of the season, too. It is a fast. So when I miss having a drink this month I will be reminded of God...or at least that is the idea.
Actually what I will probably miss most isn't beer,,,it's bars and the welcoming social ritual that grabbing a drink represents. Like Alcott, my preferred mode of communication is conversation. My favorite venue is a causal place with food that won't kick you out right away. In fact, the picture I put on this post is there because it reminds me of a really great breakfast I had with friends in Long Beach during UCC General Synod. I plan on having a lot of breakfast meetings I guess...but with coffee. Fortunately I love coffee.
Anyway, are you doing anything for Lent? Most of my minister friends have plans. This is even even true for low-church Puritan types like me, who don't come from traditions where the season is officially a thing. We are borrowing it. My Facebook feed is filled with the plans of colleagues.
What about lay folks? Anyone? We always make Lent sound so grim, and of course there is a reason for that in the story of death and resurrection that brings us to Easter, However, it is a great way to attempt a positive change in our lives. I, for one, don't plan on passing it up.