Lent began yesterday and so I have noticed increased commentary. For example, one young friend posted a piece on Facebook recommending that, instead of giving something up for Lent. why not give something away each day, thereby addressing one’s tendency to gather stuff? A valuable thought. But I have to acknowledge that, despite my frequent criticisms and questioning of the Catholic Church, at some level there is still an old-time Catholic inside of me. As such, I am once again giving up sweets and cussing.
There is in my Catholic Church a long history of asceticism in which self-deprivation is viewed as a pathway to a deeper experience of God. Practices ranging from fasting to complete withdrawal into the desert are viewed as valuable, even profound spiritual experiences. This, I believe, is one of the many areas where one can find overlap between Christianity and Buddhism. Buddhists after all call our attention to our attachments and the suffering those attachments create.
I have far more serious attachments. Power. Possessions. Esteem. Attachments that need attention. But I also love sweets and nothing expresses a variety of emotions for me like cussing. So they are a place to start.
In times past, I would give up beer for Lent. Now there was a major attachment! I would ignore the fact that I switched to wine coolers for those 40 days. Others noticed. There was a restaurant I frequented when I was in the Army where a waitress came to know us well. Thus, one year when I ordered a wine cooler with my lunch instead of my usual beer, she commented “Oh! Is it Lent already?”
Lent, too, may be an appropriate time for me to pause and assess how I am progressing spiritually. What progress have I made with the questions with which I struggle? How disciplined have I been in spiritual practices? What progress have I made in healing? How good of a Christian have I been this past year? What character defects continue to plague me? What attachments have I addressed? What can I celebrate from this past year? There may be other questions with which you can pause over the next few weeks.
And, in case you’re wondering, I typically have much more success giving up sweets than giving up cussing. I suppose I agree with Mark Twain “When angry, count to four. When very angry, swear!”
Reflection: 1. Do you find time on a regular basis to reflect on how you are doing spiritually?
2. If you observe Lent in any way, what practices have you found meaningful?