By Clyde Davis: CNJ Columnist
For persons who follow the liturgical calendar of the Christian tradition, the season of Lent will soon be upon us, a season which comes this year about as early as it possibly can. Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of that season, is Feb. 6 this year.
For those to whom this has no frame of reference, or to whom this makes no spiritual connection, the question may occur: What is Lent? Or, more succinctly, why is Lent? The first hint, of course, this noun has nothing to do with the past tense of the verb, “to lend.”
The first solid evidence of the Christian tradition marking this period appears early in the fourth century. Lent is a 40-day period of special significance before Easter. It was, among other issues, a time when the church prepared its new initiates, or catechumens, for their formal initiation into the faith community. Many churches still traditionally receive new members on Easter and focus their training in the 40 days of Lent.
Forty days. Why not 50 or 35? The number 40 has recurring Biblical significance: the Israelites wandered for 40 years in the wilderness, Jesus was tempted by Satan while on a 40-day fast, and so on. Thus the number was deemed appropriate for this season of self-denial and self-examination.
Many nondemoniational churches, in their haste to reinvent tradition or discredit the place of historical precedent, neither embrace nor understand the underlying theological purpose of this season. As ought to be true when one first makes a faith commitment, the season of Lent calls for a reexamination of one’s own relationship to the Divine.
The practice of intentional self sacrifice returns to the early Lenten practice of fasting, which does not always imply total abstinence from food, but selectively giving up something in order to spiritually move forward.
One might also ask, what about taking on something for Lent? Make a practice of visiting the nursing home or shutins.
Become a host mentor with the school district, voluntarily tutoring children in elementary school.
Volunteer time at the animal shelter, caring for animals who may or may not find new homes.
Ask your church pastor or administrator what new ministry you might become involved in.
The possibilities are endless; the goal is to find a way to move outside oneself in gratitude and awareness of the sacrfice which the Christ made on our behalf.
It would seem to me that, whether Christianity is your faith or not, the concept of self-examination and self-sacrifice is one that could be embraced.
Clyde Davis is pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Portales and a college instructor. He can be contacted at: