I know this is a little past Lent now, but I think you might still enjoy the sentiment of this column, originally published in April’s PULP.
Lent: Celebrating the common
As some may know, this is the period known as Lent – the weeks leading up to Easter – on the Christian liturgical calendar. Lots of Protestants aren’t even familiar with it, but our church tries to recognize it as a spiritual discipline if nothing else.
There are a few things Lent is known for, namely Fat Tuesday, or Mardi Gras. The idea behind this is that, since you’re supposed to give something up in Lent to remind us of the selfless or often-called “sacrificial” love demonstrated by Jesus. This begins on the first day of Lent, which is Ash Wednesday.
Some of us may know this holiday by some embarrassing moment when we’ve gone up to a person observing Ash Wednesday and said something akin to, “dude, you have some shit on your forehead.” The tradition actually is that the palm leaves from Palm Sunday, which is the Sunday before Easter, used in worship the year before are burned and mixed with oil, then used to place a mark of the cross on a person’s forehead. This is to serve as a reminder that we all came from dust, and hence will return to dust.
Fat Tuesday, then, being the last day before this period of fasting and reflection, is the last chance to get all the naughty bits out of your system. Problem is, a hell of a lot more people observe Fat Tuesday than Ash Wednesday.
I actually had a college student friend of mine say recently that Lent is her favorite time of the Christian year. Whereas days like Christmas and Easter have largely become as commercialized as Valentines or other Hallmark Holidays, Lent actually requires something of us, and causes us to search inward to discern what’s really important in our lives.
For those who like to complain that all young folks are a bunch of narcissistic self-indulgent whiners, I might suggest that a growing movement known as “neo monasticism” suggests otherwise.
Neo monasticism, which is based on the ancient lifestyle of monks, emphasizes simplicity and communal interdependence. The best example of this is the monastery in Taize, France, where more than 6,000 young people travel every summer to sleep on the floor, cook meals for one another, sing chants and pray four times every day.
No rides or movie theaters. No iPods. Not even a Chipotle for miles. It’s about as different from contemporary life as one can get without being completely off the grid. And that’s pretty much the point.
This movement, brought to the forefront during this Lenten season, celebrates the common in our lives, embracing simplicity and freeing us from the shackles of want. It may be a passing fad, but it speaks to something deeper in our culture. We may have become dependent upon constant distraction and obsessed with comfort, but when we spend even a little while reflecting on what really matters, there’s something in us that’s restless for deeper meaning.