Lent starts tomorrow, Wednesday February 25th, 2009. It's a time of giving up something. The actual Lenten time is 40 days (not including the Sundays that are within the 40 days) and it is a Catholic time of penitence. Ash Wednesday is the beginning, and is the day when Catholics go to church in the morning and are marked on the forehead with ashes to show visibly that they repent of their sins.
For me, Lent is not about repenting sins. I don't really believe in sin in the way that a Christian does. I don't believe in the "get out of hell free" card, as so many others do. What I DO believe in is the bettering of one's self through spiritual and emotional scrutiny. In other words, I believe it's important to take spiritual stock and go over my personal spiritual and mental growth.
One way to do this is to deprive yourself of a thing, and then watch your reaction to that deprivation. The first year I participated in Lent, I gave up coffee (which, admittedly, I will never do again). I learned a lot about myself over that 40 day time period. I learned that caffiene is a very powerful and addictive drug, and that I had the personal power to give it up. I also learned that I had to really white-knuckle it, and that it was a vast relief when it was all over. The first cup of coffee on Easter morning was like a hit of heroin to a junkie. It was a very fruitful exercise, in my opinion.
This year, Lent is 46 days long (when you count the six Sundays). Wednesday is considered a fasting day, but not in the modern sense (of not eating anything) but in the same way the ancients approached it: adults in good health ate only one meal on a 'fasting' day, and it was to be a healthy, well balanced meal. Fasting days would have included abstaining from alcohol, drugs, tobacco or other smokeables, and other such things. The idea was to make your one meal really count, and be flavorful but not "exciting" to the senses. We'll be having roast leg of lamb, which is a delicious flavor, but not spicy or anything over the top. Technically I'm exempt from fasting right now, being ill, but I'm not ill in a way that would be affected by not eating breakfast and lunch, so I'm going to not eat tomorrow until dinner time. I consider it a good practice.
Fridays during lent, Christians generally aren't supposed to eat meat. Most of you have probably heard of "meatless Fridays" and many may even remember them. The Church stopped insisting on them years and years ago, but there were a few hold-outs until more recent times. I am going to attempt to make Fridays the day that we eat fish, not because we're Catholic, but because it's healthy for us. In the spirit of the celebration as I practice it, it will be a day for focus on eating whole foods, healthy foods, and especially those rich in Omega 3s and 6s that our family is often lacking in. Salmon and tuna will likely play a large role in the next few weeks' Friday dinners. Of course, half of the family will be jumping for joy at the thought of more fish. Heh...
For the next 46 days, I intend to focus very much on myself, in respect to my spiritual growth and connection with Deity. This year, I am giving up cookies and cakes (baked sweetness), because they're something that has been slowly sneaking back into my diet more frequently than should be. I need to be aware of just how much sneaking in is happening.
What are you giving up this year, or what are you doing, to gain a better understanding of your relationship to Deity?