A couple of years ago a friend of mine told me she was giving up chocolate for Lent.
I looked at her with utter incomprehension.
The whole concept of Lent seemed archaic (and the concept of giving up chocolate positively barbaric).
It is an attitude that is perhaps reflected by the person who recently reacted with bemusement to a blog written by our ten-year-old daughter, which noted that she and her friends were discussing what they were giving up for Lent.
“Are our children losing their childhood?” he wondered anxiously.
“Why are ten-yearolds discussing what to give up for Lent?”
Lent, I think, is one of those seasons in the Christian calendar in need of some robust rediscovery.
Far from being a short time of penance in the traditional sense, marked by guilt or shame, Lent has the potential to become a truly life-giving journey.
It is the perfect opportunity to reflect on the call to stand with others in the pursuit of a more authentic lifestyle as followers
It can challenge us to hear the voices of those who live in poverty 365 days a year, often because of our failure to take
seriously the call to care for our neighbours.
Without Lent, in which we grapple with the meaning of Jesus’ life, it’s hard to enter fully into the promise offered to us and the commitment asked of us as Resurrection people.
And what kind of commitment is that?
Hear the voice of Isaiah: “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free.
Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?” (Isaiah 58: 6-7)
For many people, Lent is a time of intense personal growth.
Partly because, of all the seasons in the Christian calendar, Lent allows us to actually get in and do something practical; to get our hands dirty.
As any teacher will tell you, the best learning comes from hands-on action.
As the old Chinese proverb has it: Tell me and I’ll forget; show me and I may remember; involve me and I’ll understand.
Lent is a season which has the potential to be deeply involving and thus lead to a deeper understanding of self and God.
The traditional disciplines of prayer and fasting had an impact upon the body and soul.
But newer traditions within the life of the Uniting Church are equally transformative.
When children and adults take part in movements like Lent Event, which introduce them to hands-on practical discipleship in partnership with God’s spirit and people in poverty, it’s hard to walk away unchanged.
I’m not too bothered by my daughter discussing what she’s giving up for Lent with her buddies on the school bus (squeezed in between narratives about the latest escapades of her cat, analysis of sandwich fillings and some boring stuff about homework).
Engagement with the season of Lent, the challenge of going without, the faces and voices of people in Zimbabwe, Durgapur, Papua New Guinea and Milne Bay … these are the elements of learning that will
help our child to understand what it means to truly love others, to live a Resurrected life.
According to National Church Life Survey research released last year, the number one reason that people do not attend church is that it’s boring. If church is to be a place of learning, it’s time to get our hands and our hearts engaged and at every opportunity, to immerse ourselves in what we give allegiance to with our lips.
Lent’s a great place to start.
Photo : The Muzurabani water tanks project supported by Lent Event builds water tanks in communities where women and children would otherwise walk up to five kilometres for water. Photo courtesy of Lent Event