Yesterday the whole of the Church entered into Lent, that penitential period of fasting, almsgiving and prayer. We marked the beginning of Lent with a contrasting message, one that we are very much from and in this world, “remember, from dust you came and from dust you shall return.” We marked our foreheads with one of the most ancient markings of our faith using the ashes from palms raised in the mimic of celebration from the previous year’s Easter celebrations reflecting on Christ entering the city of Jerusalem. The second message that we are not destined to remain in this world or to be in the world in the life to come. That soon, in forty days to be nearly exact, the Body will be raised and a new covenant will be established between humanity and God.
So with Lent underway, Christians the world over have no doubt began their Lenten obligations, in some cases giving up some sort of an indulgence over the period. Last night during his sermon on the subject, my Rector reflected on what people give up for Lent. He stressed that we do not need to give up something that carries with it any sort of superhuman quality to overcome. He informed us that this Lent he would be giving up the occasional glass of whiskey that he enjoys from time to time. He emphasised that although it is not a daily occurrence, or something that he found he absolutely had to do, it was something which he took immense pleasure in doing when he had the chance. For that reason, he found it a fitting indulgence to give up. And he reminded us that a funny thing will no doubt happen as Lent progresses; by the mere fact that he has make whiskey taboo over his Lenten period, he will probably start to desire and want it more, such is the nature of humans with these sort of things.
I could not agree with Father Travis more on the subject of sacrificing indulgences. Often we get distracted because we focus on what we should be giving up as if Lent is a secular time to “better oneself” or “overcome a particular bad habit.” That is not the point of the Lenten sacrifice at all. It is about giving up an indulgence, about giving up something that you enjoy doing, something that you don’t keep as a dark part of your life (those should be sought out to be eradicated at all times). There is a whole list of things that I could give up for Lent because they are sinful or keep me from God. These are things that I struggle with daily in my life to be more Christian and more holy. These are not things that are appropriate for me to give up during Lent, indeed I should be striving to give them up all of the time and always. What I give up is meant to force me into the desert of my own soul by denying me an indulgent escape that I would otherwise use to avoid being in that desert. Lent remember is a mimic of Christ’s time in the desert before His own public ministry– we too must spend our time in the desert. And Christ’s time in the desert was a further mimicking of the Jewish exile when they spent forty years with no real place to call home, to settle down and worship God.
This Lent let us strive to enter the deserts of our souls, to force ourselves to feel the longing, loneliness and confusion of being part of a temporal world and yet carrying a spiritual hope for the world to come. Let us sacrifice an indulgence that we enjoy in life, that is good for us and not use this time as a secular means of overcoming a bad habit or undesirable trait. Let’s bring ourselves closer to God.