The season of Lent, beginning this coming Wednesday, seeks to deliberately prepare the soul for the celebration of Easter Sunday. It is a time of soul searching and of dealing with what is found on the search. It is a season of consideration and of repentance. It is a season of mourning as what might have been is seen in the light of what is. It is a season of laying before the Lord, allowing the searching light of His love to penetrate into the hidden places of our hearts. Lent is not a season of rush. Instead, it invites a slow and stately walk through one's inner life, preparing the way of the Lord.
Often this reflection is accompanied by fasting, which serves as a marker of both sorrow and seriousness. Fasting is not about manipulating God into doing something, nor is it a mark of super-spirituality. Fasting seeks to place the soul before the Lord, deliberately removing the social scaffolding we erect around our lives to prop them up. Fasting, in the traditional sense, chooses to deny the body something which it has come to depend on for it's sense of security and well being. It is a way of pealing back the layers of comfort that we might deal directly - with God, with ourselves, with others.
For many of us, food is more than nourishment - it is comfort, counsel, strength, security and hope. To choose instead to look to the Lord for all of those things is a huge step of faithfulness. And it is that to which Lent calls us. When we give up something for Lent, we do not do so for God's sake, but for ours. It is a way of measuring how out of control our lives have gotten. If I become angry with people because I am hungry, there is a good chance I am using food to protect my nurtured anger. Lent helps uncover that, exposing what is really within.
It can be a frightening season. But Lent works on the assumption that what is known can be dealt with, while what remains hidden deals with us. It is a kind of dying that prepares us for the Resurrection. Resurrection can only be celebrated - or understood - by those who know what it is to die. Lent sends out the invitation to come and die. It does so knowing that, unless you do, you will never live.