Happy Fat Tuesday! (a.k.a. the day everyone in our house scrambles to come up with something to give up for Lent and then spends the day doing/eating/watching that thing as much as possible). It’s funny to see each of our personalities come out in how we go about this process. Jim? Knows himself and gives up the same thing nearly every year—sweets. The kids’ strategy? Try to think of something that will sound impressive to their friends but they won’t actually miss all that much (e.g, “Mom, can I give up brushing my teeth for Lent?”) I will give Sam credit for having given up sugary cereal a few year back, given that cereal is just below oxygen and water on his list of life’s necessities.
I usually start thinking about Lent well in advance of its arrival. I know I have found a winner when I think of something and then immediately panic. This, of course, is a good indicator that this is the very thing I should choose, but I will spend the next few weeks saying, “I am not really going to give up that, am I?” Then Lent rolls around and I spend the next 40 days saying, “Whose dumb idea was it to give this up? Oh, wait…it was mine.” This year? My beloved iPad in all it’s app glory will be hitting the shelf ‘til Easter morning at which point I will gorge myself on back episodes of Castle and Antiques Roadshow.
Recently I read a book about life in England during the year 1000, appropriately entitled The Year 1000. The book walks the reader through the calendar year and I found its discussion of Easter particularly fascinating. The people of this time “had encountered the reality of famine.” Their deep connection and dependence on the land made hunger an ever-present specter that haunted their lives. But during Lent, the author says, “Fasting was the church’s way of harnessing hunger to spiritual purposes…Occurring when it did, in the final months of winter when the barns and granaries were getting bare, there was a sense in which Lent made a virtue of necessity.”
I don’t know the physical hunger of my medieval brothers and sisters, but as I survey our country’s, and my own, moral landscape, I see a land plagued by drought and pestilence. I see a land of plenty starving for want of nourishment.
Ironically, in Lent, in this time of abstinence and voluntarily deprivation I find the very nourishment I need. Lent is the time to shake off the covers, take inventory and do some spring cleaning. In the absence of distraction, I feel the glow of God’s presence.
In that sense, Lent isn’t a time of fasting at all. It is an exchange of one food for another; the food which poisons and numbs for the food which nourishes and awakens. My heart’s barn is empty but God is ready and waiting to give me my fill. May you and I be prepared to work for and receive the harvest He has prepared.