Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Day 1 of 40.

Today marks the beginning of what Christians honor as Lent, the 40 days leading up to Easter. It's a self-imposed time of self-analysis and self-sacrifice. Last night, depending on your geographic coordinates and cultural mores, you may have indulged in a Mardi Gras or Fat Tuesday last hurrah: a decadent fudge brownie sundae, a lazy night of brainless TV or a blitz at a fav retailer. A deliberate binge to linger in your memory and last you to April.

We observe Lent in our house, and for the past several years, it has been a surprisingly beautiful time of improvement, of goodness. I can't always say that though. As a child, it felt like punishment. How many 7th graders are suffering in the fiery furnace for accidentally eating a bite of bacon? What if the only food left on earth was meat-how could God get mad at me for that? Even now, I hear adults reiterate this child view of the guilt-laden, religious torture it is to forgo pepperoni pizza on Fridays. Oh, the suffering. ;)

Of course, it's not about fish o'filet sandwiches on Fridays. More high-minded than a New Year's resolution, the idea is to sacrifice a pleasure or vice or to go above & beyond in some way for 40 days. For believers, this endeavor inflicts a fraction of a miniscule of a skosh of what it is to imitate Christ's fortitude against temptation for the 40 days leading up to the resurrection. For others, it is an exercise of Socratic analysis and the application of nearly every self-help book at Barnes & Noble.

Make no mistake, making a pledge like this is scary. It's scary because is asks something of us. It's scary because as soon as we make this promise, temptation comes like a plague of Kansas grasshoppers. Give up gossiping, and someone will call you every afternoon with new "news." Give $20 a week to a charity, and you'll receive an unexpected bill in the mail. Give more patience, that person will irk you in brand new ways.

The pledge, however, engages the decision-making part of our brains with a calm and reassuring refrain to remind us, that "giving" something up or "giving" something more celebrates the act of giving in a supremely heightened state. It's Christmas, without the wrapping paper. It's Random Acts of Kindness Day times 40. It's philanthropy that comes from the inside out rather than the outside in. Your pledge may improve your time here on Earth, your home life, your body, your relationships, your world—what an incredible way to spend the next 40 days.

1 comment: