Wednesday, January 23, 2008
The beginning of Lent is my season, even more so than Christmas. I imagine there are a number of reasons for this. It's ironic that Lent is celebrated in anticipation of the death of Jesus rather than his birth, and this is what draws me to it (I can just see my girlfriend shaking her head now). Of course it is also an anticipation of rebirth at Easter, but those three days prior to the Resurrection were dark days for all who had put their chips on Jesus as the Messiah. We know how the story plays out; Jesus' friends during his life did not. I can't imagine the disappointment. Or maybe I can.
In any case, now that I'm back in school it is time to start procrastinating again and what better way than to clean house, stripping down the nonessentials. Lent is not a 'giving up' (chocolates and shit)--it is a refocusing, bringing things that have gotten off kilter back to the spiritual center. Ascetic practice is meant to be the outward expression of this inner spirit, but too often it can become the focus itself. To keep from misguided religiosity, it is important to remember that man's laws are not God's laws, and to keep things in perspective.
I have been cleaning my closet and giving things away on craigslist, selling other things i don't need, streamlining my clothes. This is not sacrifice. People often think donating their old sweaters to the Salvation Army to help some poor person who cannot afford to shop at Banana Republic (me) is some kind of redeeming act of charity. It isn't. It's a way to get rid of your crap and can sometimes even be used to assuage a sense of guilt for having too much. As long as one avoids the temptation to claim any merit, giving away things that we don't need can help in the refocusing effort, even if it seems to be a feeble attempt at shrugging off the marks of our regretful materialistic tendencies.
Lent is an important time for me because for forty days, I am given a sense of purpose and responsibility, and a chance to get back to my roots. It is like being an Italian-American and going back to the small village you grew up in for the summer. It reminds you where you are from and keeps your Italian honed; the less you visit, the more it fades. You can't really live there without making a full-on move, giving up everything you have and the life you know back in the States. Until then, forty day visits are the next best thing.