Lent: Secular or Sacred?
Every now and then I see a bumper sticker that says, “Keep Christ in Christmas.” Yet Christmas isn’t the only religious observance that has been remodeled into a secular season only remotely connected to its religious origin; Lent is another.
The “Secular Lent” has been growing in popularity, the idea being that one can take on Lenten practices like fasting, or abstaining from unhealthy activities, not for religious reasons but as a self-improvement program. The columnist Giles Fraser puts it this way: “The irony of the secular Lent of giving up chocolate etc., is that it turns a period of self-denial into one of self-regard. It makes it all about me….” 1
Now don’t get me wrong: there’s nothing bad about giving up chocolate or whiskey or Instagram or smoking for forty days. In fact, there’s probably a lot of good in all that. But Lent is about something deeper and even more transformative. In keeping a sacred Lent, we give up seeking control, rather than trying to master ourselves or our surroundings. We take on Lenten practices to “self-empty,” not to “self-improve.” We fast, pray, and perhaps give up that chocolate bar or Facebook session not to increase our pride or decrease our waistlines, but to create space in our lives and hearts for God to enter. If my Lenten practices decrease “me” the Spirit in me will increase.
And that means, of course, that my joy, peace, and sense of freedom increases. These qualities of the Spirit can’t be earned through even the most rigorous self-improvement program. They are gifts that can only be prepared for through getting ourselves out of the way—placing all our plans and programs (for ourselves or for others) on a shelf and instead becoming empty, so that God’s love and grace and peace can fill us.
How lucky we are to have the church and her sacred Lent! This time of fasting, prayer, almsgiving, and, in general, “creating space” for God is a time of tending the seed of the Spirit within us—which will bloom in ways always new and delightful. “Lent” after all means “springtime,” (Old English: lencten) a time of new life, of greening, of grace.
Have a wonderful Lent!
Sunday 8:00 AM
Sunday 9:00 AM
HOLY EUCHARIST WITH MUSIC
Sunday 10:00 AM
Sunday 10:00 AM