FAITH: What is meant when partaking in Lent?

It’s here again — Lent. 

One of my favourite seasons of the church calendar year.

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In the beginning of December, Advent begins the Christian year with a focus given to prepare mind and soul for the gift of the Christ child.

It’s Christmas, with so many wonderful things to celebrate and do.

Along comes Epiphany, on January 6, encouraging awareness of divine presence in everyday moments. 

And then, all of a sudden, or so it seems, the Lenten season is upon us, beginning with Ash Wednesday. 

For the next five weeks or so, our thoughts, our prayers and our reflections take on a differing focus. 

This is Lent.

Lent is a longstanding, 40-day ‘fast’ practiced by Christians of many denominations in all corners of the world. 

Historically, the Christian church established Lent around the 4th century, as a time of fasting to prepare for Resurrection Sunday, Easter Sunday. 

They developed forms of fasting and prayer to focus upon the life of Jesus, with the intent to live daily the Jesus way of life.

The term Lent itself began during the Middle Ages and was derived from the Germanic word for “spring.” 

Some suggest the Anglo Saxon “lenct” meaning “long” was the origin, since this referred to lengthening of days. 

Ash Wednesday ushers in the 40-day fast (this year, March 6). 

On Shrove Tuesday, (or Pancake Tuesday) Christians traditionally prepare for the time of fasting. 

This too, is a throwback to the Middle Ages. 

Housewives emptied their pantries of butter, bacon, eggs, sausages, fancy meats, all the good stuff which would not be on the menu during Lent.

So as not to waste a good thing, the medieval women created Pancake Tuesday, (well, maybe they didn’t call it such), which remains in the church calendar. 

It became the last chance to indulge from the larder before Lent. 

The 40-day season of Lent ends on Maundy Thursday, April 18. 

For those of us from the western Christian tradition, the 40-day fast excludes Sundays. 

Nice to know that whatever I give up is “legal” on Sundays.

So today, Lent offers time and space, through fasting (giving up of something), prayer and reflection to be attentive to God’s Spirit speaking to us within. 

It is a time to nurture the journey of letting go of habits or thought patterns in our lives. 

It is a journey of dying to old ways of being and thinking — to be transformed into new hope and trust.

As well, the three-fold practice of Lent within our Christian experience of today includes fasting, prayer and offering service to others in need.  

Henri Nouwen noted that, “Lent offers a beautiful opportunity to discover the mystery of Christ within us. It is a gentle but also demanding time.” 

He suggests, “when we live Lent attentively and gently, then Easter can truly be a celebration of the risen Christ in the deepest place of our being.” (Taken from the Lenten booklet titled, Called to Life, Called to Love by Henri Nouwen).

The invitation during Lent is to slow down, to take time to notice divine presence in the moments of the day, to walk more slowly and reflectively. 

Clearly, this form of fasting is countercultural since it is a call to slowing down our busy pace and drinking deeply from moments of silence and contemplation.

I have discovered over the years of practicing Lent, that deciding what to fast from seemed to be a bit tricky. 

Oh, giving up coffee, chocolate, or some other food, was OK. 

In the moment, it served it’s purpose. 

In recent years, published Lenten reflections have noted inner attitudes that require some realignments. 

For example, it may be important to fast from a critical spirit and so take on kindness, fast from having to have control to take on humility, or fast from grudges so to take on forgiveness and being reconciled. 

Such simple fasting practices, as letting go of complaining and taking on acceptance can open up news vistas of seeing the world around us. 

It encourages the ability to listen attentively to God, to ourselves and to others.

Fasting at the level of our inner attitudes opens up our ability to experience the love of God, which is at the heart of the Lenten and Easter season.

I truly love Lent. 

Each year I come to this season anticipating another time of being attentive to my spiritual life. 

Sometimes I am aware of what I bring to the moment, sometimes I am not.

For Lent 2019, let us consider what we may take on as positive inner attitudes and fast from the aspects that keep us from being open to the loving presence of God.  


Dr. Joyce Peasgood, spiritual life coach, can be reached at C&C Resources for Life, 250-554-4747. 

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