Lent is an odd sort of season. Some find it to be the center point of their faith. Others see it as a stumbling block. Some simply feel it is “too Catholic” and not a part of their tradition. Others have no idea what I’m talking about. I tend to go back and forth on the issue. It drives me crazy when folks brag about what they are “giving up” for Lent and can’t wait for each Sunday when they can enjoy their forbidden treat. Others seem to revel in the pain they impose upon themselves as they take on a new discipline or practice. Don’t get me wrong, I think it is helpful to focus on one’s faith and Lent is as good a time as any to do so but sometimes I think we forget why. I fear that too often folks forget the admonition Jesus gives in Matthew’s gospel:
Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them…
The word Lent describes the lengthening of each day as we approach the arrival of Spring (which can’t come quickly enough as I look at the foot of snow that has fallen since last night). As we’ve done with many words, we Christians have co-opted an Anglo-Saxon word to reflect this season prior to the celebration of Easter. Lent is the forty days plus Sundays (hence the option to eat chocolate and guzzle carbonated beverages on Sundays) where Christians are to journey just as did Jesus in the wilderness preparing for the passion and celebration to come.
As I’ve reflected this week on the beginning of Lent I’ve been stewing on stretching. I can’t wait for the lengthening of the days and the arrival of spring. Lengthening seems passive or at the very least the result of something outside of my control. Stretching takes effort, sometimes a bit of pain, but the result is renewing. When I don’t stretch regularly it isn’t just my neck that is out of whack, it is my entire being body and soul. I get cranky. I can’t focus. I feel sluggish.
Stretching one’s faith might be the same – it takes effort and is sometimes painful but the result. Oh, the result.
So if folks ask me what I’m giving up or taking on for Lent I’m going to tell them I’m stretching.