Of late, I have been meditating on three little words. Although I do often meditate on the phrase “I love you,” this time I am actually referring to a different three words: “What is Lent?” This may sound silly, but it has required quite a bit of research, communication, and contemplation. In order to understand my questioning, I think I need to begin by stating that I come from a Unitarian Universalist/Secular Humanist background. Lent was always this thing I heard of in the abstract, but didn’t partake in nor really understand. When my Christian best friend gave up coffee for Lent one year, I wished him good luck. When he donated all the money he saved from not buying said coffee to charity, I told him how proud I was of him. I knew ‘what’ he was doing for Lent; but we never really discussed the ‘why?’ Then came February 2012. Apparently, when you are living in international Christian community, working for a faith-based nonprofit, and participating in a fellowship committed to following the Jesus Way, Lent is kind of a big deal. Therefore, I decided that it would be important (to myself, my community, my spiritual development, and the larger world) to learn about and participate in this season called Lent. I could go on for hours sharing all the interesting things I learned about Lent. For example, did you know that the first reference to Lent as a period of 40 days’ preparation occurs in the teaching of the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD? I sure didn’t. But quickly I found that, despite my BA in History, it wasn’t the historical facts about Lent that most interested me. It was talking to my housemates, Life Together staff, clergy and co-workers about how they understood Lent and what it meant to them that really made things come alive for me. From these conversations (and visiting my fellow Micah Intern Reed Loy’s church, St James in Cambridge, on Ash Wednesday) I learned that the basic principles of Lent. According to the people I spoke with, they include: reflecting on the significance of Christ’s death, mindful or reflective prayer or spiritual practices, giving something up or taking something on, fasting as a means of relating to Christ, and helping those in need. As I understand it, Lent a time to reflect on the past, take action in the present, and work towards a better future. A time to examine our lives, and work to conform them to Christ’s; be it through prayer, charity, fasting, or some other individual practice. I used to think Lent was a period of quiet sadness in association to Christ’s arrest, trial and crucifixion. I have trouble looking at things from such a gloomy angle. But over the past few days I have come to realize that one can also choose to focus on Christ’s sacrifice in terms of the incredible love that it represents. I also learned that I shouldn’t be afraid to practice Lent for fear of practicing ‘the wrong way.’ Lent is a very personal season and everyone practices it differently. And that’s okay. Through these realizations, Lent has swiftly transformed from a concept I never even considered partaking in to a practice that I truly starting to enjoy and find meaningful. Who wouldn’t want to meditate on and try to find ways to live a more Christ-like life? As Henri Nouwen said, “You don’t think your way into a new kind of living. You live your way into a new kind of thinking.” No longer am I thinking about what Lent really is; instead, I am living it. I invite you to do the same. Peace and Namaste.
By Ellen Lagerman, 2011-12 Micah Fellow at CMM