This year, Ash Wednesday fell on the 17th February. It was, as always, preceded by Mardi Gras (“Fat Tuesday”.) Thus, we mark the beginning of Lent.
Lent is a period of intense self-examination, repentance, and abstinence, that is observed by Roman, Coptic and Orthodox Catholics. The ashes that we receive as a mark in the sign of the cross, upon our foreheads, reminds us that we are dust, and to dust we will return.
On Easter Sunday we emerge from our personal tombs of penance, into a bright, joyous day of renewal and restoration. We are sanctified. We are triumphant over the darkness that is within.
For non-Christians, Lent is regarded simplistically, as a time when other people give things up; treats like chocolate, sugar, and alcohol. Then they binge on them when the forty days of “fasting” are over. Viewed in this manner, it all seems pretty pointless. And it would be, if it was actually about that.
The point of Lent is not to mope around looking deprived and pious. The point of Lent is to examine and to challenge oneself. The point of Lent is to remove one’s veneer, to present oneself before God, saying: “Here I am, in all my imperfection.”
Yes, we “give things up.” But more importantly, we take things on. People of all and no faith can, and do, practise Lenten fasting and self-examination. This time of COVID lockdowns and restrictions is a period of Lent for the world. It is our opportunity to re-evaluate ourselves. No, not to “re-set” by participating in some collective global brainwashing exercise. The journey must be personal if it is to lead to a destination worth reaching. The onus must be on the individual. The responsibility must lie, exclusively, with the individual; if change is to be of any value or validity at all.
What, then, have I “given up” for Lent? I have given up thinking about the global pandemic that is being used by politicians and their owners as a smoke screen to remove personal freedom and responsibility. I have given up watching the “news” on television. I have given up concerning myself with issues that I have little or no control over. I have also given up alcohol, rich foods, and red meat.
What have I taken on instead? I have taken on thinking about the people around me, and of ways that I can enrich and assist them. I have taken on reading uplifting and inspirational literature, or watching inspirational broadcasts and movies. I have taken on concerning myself with issues that I have got some control over: my lack of patience, my quickness to anger, my failure to be empathic. I have taken on setting aside the money that I would spend on things that I like, but do not need, and I will be giving it to those who have less than I.
There is no need for a “global re-set” dictated and manipulated by a hidden, sinister elite, who have nothing to lose and all to gain. People have been “re-setting” themselves for over 2000 years. From the ashes of Lent we arise, and we are re-born.