“The true value of a human being can be found in the degree to which he (or she) has attained liberation from the self.” – Albert Einstein
This season we’re in – Lent – is a time of going without for most Christians. Cloaked in a hue of ought-ness, questions and statements on what we have given up for Lent sound through doorways and down hallways.
This is when Christians try practicing penance through some sort of fasting, beginning on Ash Wednesday, the day after Fat Tuesday, and leading to Easter. It’s supposed to be a dutiful exercise that recalls Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness.
Although, instead of freely giving over our indulgent ways to a heavenly cause, we mournfully relinquish some of our pleasures, maybe one or two, with a good amount of anxiety and cautious calculation.
However holy and righteous our white knuckled sacrifices may be, we really do appear inherently narcissistic. Instead of seriously self-imposed suffering, we employ as much convenience as possible in “going without.” We bargain with our sweet tooth and dicker with our compulsive cravings.
Rarely do we fast from what would make us downright miserable, like coffee, cigarettes or alcohol.
For this very reason, I haven’t given up anything consumable for many years now. It just never seemed real to me. Not so as a youngster, when giving up something edible, like chocolate or bread, wasn’t a choice, but a mandatory obligation of my faith, including meatless Fridays. The more we gave up, the holier we would become, or so I thought.
Today, many decades removed from that place, the call to guard my words and thoughts, rather than banishing the candy dish for six weeks, sirens in my Lenten life – a much tougher task, for sure.
Well-intentioned pastors encourage the notion that our struggles through fasting and prayer can lead to sorely needed self-discovery, producing in us virtues like selflessness, generosity, kindness, faithfulness and forgiveness.
Mingled with our spirit of self-sacrifice, pulpit stories and Bible lessons – imprints handed down through generations – beckon us to give up even more than we could have ever bargained for: gossiping, judging, criticizing, complaining and the like.
Unfortunately inquisitional, all too often such Lenten routines negatively evoke our ever-so-weak human condition, causing us to feel trapped and forsaken for all eternity.
In a perfect Christian world, if we truly observe this season of sobriety from our ills, we would entirely turn over our sinful nature to a higher power, happily casting off our preferences under a sacrificial hue.
However blessed it may seem – this period on the Christian calendar admittedly is quite burdensome. Drudgery, Lent sends us on a vexing, miserable sojourn. Facing the cross, confronting our worldliness, we tangle with temptation in every crook and cranny – at every turn.
Tamped down from the get-go, we toil through, marking off the days until Easter Sunday, when we will emerge supposedly gaunt and threadbare, peering through our sacrificial veils.
No matter what we have abstained from, whether food, fun or foul play, we become alien to our otherwise material, impulsive existence. Soldiering on, we trod. Our gaze selfishly fixed, not on the cross, rather on Resurrection Sunday, when once again we will rejoice, raise our glasses and devour baskets full of sweets.
Although funereal and cheerless is our plight, how do these 40 days encourage us on another level?
Coaxing us out of cranky slumber, this season of penitence coincides with springtime, when our frozen spirits begin to thaw and the happy arrival of longer days and shorter nights descends upon us as a sweet homecoming.
Even as soaked snowflakes amass downward, generations of migratory birds embark on a long trek northward. Some species relinquish rest and nourishment the entire journey, casting a shadow of doubt on our convenient attempts at fasting.
Look skyward! A fluttering river flows, pressing onward to summer places, where many will give birth. Others will pass away.
Oh, Lent, sacred grove of sacrifice, quicken our resolve. Hasten our journey toward a resurrection life.