Self-reflection and penitence are long-standing traditions in many faiths and cultures. There seems to be a common understanding that human beings often drive, lose perspective and need periodic adjustments to live healthy and faithful lives. Just as the earth has seasons, so do humans; both seem to be necessary.
Lent includes the 47 days leading up to Easter when Christians celebrate the resurrection of Christ. It is actually 40 days plus seven Sundays. (Remember that 40 is the number of days Jesus fasted and spent time in the desert reflecting and preparing for his vocation.)
Other faiths have similar traditions.
Muslims celebrate Ramadan, a month of fasting, charitable giving and prayer in the 9th month of the Islamic calendar. It is also during this time that many make their pilgrimage to Mecca to participate in the Hajj, a trip every Muslim must make at least once during their lifetime. During the Hajj, Muslims engage in purification and unity. The Arabic word Tawbah literally means, “turning around.”
In addition to celebrating Passover, Jews participate in the Days of Awe, ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. This is a time for serious reflection, a chance to consider the previous year and to repent. The Scriptures (what Christians call the Old Testament) concept of repentance means to literally a 180-degree turn towards God.
According to the website, Judaism 101, “Among the customs of this time, it is common to seek reconciliation with people you may have wronged during the course of the year. The Talmud maintains that Yom Kippur atones only for sins between man and G-d. To atone for sins against another person, you must first seek reconciliation with that person, righting the wrongs you committed against them if possible.”*
During Lent, many people (especially Catholics) give up something they enjoy, like sugar, alcohol or movies. These are types of fasts. But one might argue these are quite superficial. Perhaps a much bigger sacrifice is to let go of your ego and all the other false things you hang onto.
“Allow yourself to be fully known,” Father Richard Rohr wrote, “and you will know what you need to know.” Or as the social reformer and Saint, Teresa of Avila, wrote in the 16th century: “We find God in ourselves, and we find ourselves in God.”**
Lent is not a time to prove to God that you love Him/Her (or manipulate to love you–because They already do), rather it’s a time to reflect, search your soul, and make amends. If fasting is something that is meaningful to you, then do it. But more important is to reflect, pray, and perhaps engage in rituals (such as Lenten services). It might be a good time to go on a spiritual retreat.
Take time. Let go. Figure out what this season means to you. Don’t let others define your personal spiritual journey.
Image from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prostration