Thinking Anew – The challenge of Lent
“Lent permits our innermost desire for good to exert its authority for a short while”
The spirit is unwilling but the flesh is strong. We start diets, pay gym memberships and start a whole load of other things that willing spirits complete. But a lot of our spirits are not that willing really. We have a series of excuses and devices to justify not completing something. The body’s strong demands for cream cakes and sofa-time will easily coax the unwilling spirit to yield. Logic, reason and bargaining bring our brains into the struggle and usually as an ally to the body: we can work it off tomorrow; a break can be good; I wasn’t feeling very well; this is silly, or, nobody cares!
Under pressure and scrutiny from others it is easy to tame the flesh and appear to be doing things well. We are all capable of triumph when we know we are being watched. Fear of foul judgments from our doctors, employers, family, friends and supporters make perseverance easier. The challenge of Lent is to test the perseverance of our own spirit with no supervision other than ourselves.
The old fasting rules were strict. You were permitted one meal a day and two small snacks. There was a total ban on meat and strong alcohol. Fish, beer and grape musts were permitted. We traditionally ate the last bit of butter, egg and milk in pancakes because these items were also forbidden. Surviving 40 days on a near-vegan diet is simply too much to ask of people. We have consequently always softened Lent and we only gave up on one thing. That one thing was usually sweets for children and either alcohol or smoking for adults.
In the Christian tradition of fasting our tendency has always been to lead away from things that harm us. The idea of sacrificing red wine or chocolate for 40 days would not be a popular suggestion. It is so big that many of us will either ignore Lent completely or abandon it at the first honourable opportunity.
We usually refer to our spirit as a soul. The soul is not some sort of neutrino trapped inside a body. The soul is our innermost being. Everybody has a soul whether they believe in God or not. Beneath the physical façade of who we are we have a part of us that we rarely acknowledge and barely discuss. When we encounter a person who truly understands and accepts us we often describe that person as a soul-mate. We know our souls best as the part of us that loves. Maybe knowing that is enough?
The spiritual side of Lent is as much about indulging the soul as it is about taming the body. Reminding our physical bodies that they are not the only show in town is no bad idea.
Lent permits our innermost desire for good to exert its authority for a short while. The whims, passions, reactions and habits of our physicality usually dictate our decisions. Handing the reins to the well-intentioned, loving part of us can only make the world a better place.
Lent is not a season that people particularly welcome although setting a 40-day challenge to let our inner-goodness triumph should excite us. If you have an unpleasant practice that you know causes upset to yourself or to others, isn’t a 40-day regime, where your loving inner-beauty helps you to improve yourself, a challenge we should really enjoy?
Turn away from sin and believe in the Gospel. Dare to realise that you are not a slave to passion and opinion forever. Remember you were worth saving.