The cakes and pastries, especially, have been talking to me. I see and smell their invitations – I’m sure I even hear them as I throw a wide berth around the fresh bakes corner of the local supermarket.
The philosophical discussions with myself, about whether hot cross buns are a sweet delicacy or an essential part of a normal diet, don’t help.
See, I’ve given up sweets and cakes of any kind and all alcoholic drinks for Lent.
In the Christian, mainly Anglo-Catholic tradition, Lent is a time of drawing apart from the world and drawing closer to God. Acts of self-denial – like the food and drink that I’ve given up – are moments of repentance, presaging a deeper commitment to a holier, Godly lifestyle in the world.
Running from Ash Wednesday to Good Friday on the Christian calendar but excluding Sundays, Lenten observance is based on the 40 days which Jesus Christ is believed to have spent fasting in the dessert.
In traditional churches, Lent is the period of preparation for remembering Christ’s crucifixion and resurrection at Easter. Christians mimic his fasting by “giving up” or sacrificing something which has become an integral part of their life – a type of food like meat (fish is substituted), an activity, a habit (good or bad).
Lent is not helped by its start in the first quarter of the Gregorian calendar when the southern hemisphere experiences the first chill of autumn and much of the northern hemisphere remains in the grip of a vicious winter.
That’s probably why it often can be experienced as a dark, foreboding, depressing season, rather than as a time of energetic reawakening.
In a post-modern era, giving up an item of food seems almost passé for many adherents of this tenet of Christianity; they might instead forego their various electronic devices to spend more time in prayer and meditation.
These gestures mostly have very little – if anything at all – to do with the reality of Christ’s wilderness experience. But Christians understand – believe – that the “giving up” – sacrificial, penitential acts – enable a richer understanding of the sacrifice which Christ made for them by being crucified and dying.
They are like a “spring-clean” of the soul, turning away from the slothful or couldn’t-care-less spirituality, acedia, of the rest of the year.
A big part of that process involves a re-focusing on human relations – sharing possessions with the poor, food with the hungry, giving shelter to the homeless, covering the naked.
The spiritual intent of Lent, including the practical impact on the way people of faith relate to others during this season, is seen in the Muslim Ramadan, even the Jewish ritual of Yom Kippur.
These spiritual seasons need not be tied to an arbitrary religious affirmation. We can simply find a place, a moment, in our busyness to be quiet, reflective, focused on other stuff, other people, take stock, maybe even forget about who or what we are. Create our own season.
However, if a Lenten season is to mean anything, it requires taking the “self”, in all its terrible selfishness, out of the process, and being more altruistic. The most important thing you can give up for Lent, is yourself.