Lent

April 3, 2012 | 14 comments
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We are now in Holy Week, and Lent is ending.

I’ve been fasting. It’s nothing onerous; just giving up sweets and meats. I’m not a huge fan of penance and self-flagellation, but to be honest, I probably eat too much of both categories for both my conscience and my health. But even if a little guilt is in order, I don’t see any profit in wallowing or groveling. Lent is the perfect time to reset my habits. It is a well-defined period of fasting that, if not observed, is at least recognized throughout Christendom. And it is that very definition, the fact that it is so widely recognized, makes the fast easier and more bearable.

I know Mormons don’t generally observe Lent; I was raised Mormon. But I am surprised by how many derisive reactions I receive from my fellow Mormons during my fast.

I’ve already mentioned the practical reasons for fasting through Lent. But the primary reason to fast is spiritual. This extended fast, this period of prolonged mild self-denial builds anticipation for Easter. In my 40 days, I remember the other 40s of the Bible: Moses fasting on Sinai, Elijah walking to Horeb, the great deluge, the 40 years of exile in the wilderness. I remember Christ fasting in the wilderness for 40 days at the beginning of his ministry, and how hungered and weak, he overcame temptation.

I look to the wilderness surrounding me, my mountains and canyons, and I am drawn away from this overly civilized valley (which I love) back to the places where no man can mediate between me and my God. I want to be alone and empty, a vessel to be defined by what God choses to do with me.

I count down the days, tell my children the stories of Christ’s ministry, rehearse the events of Holy Week. Palm Sunday, with its processional entry overcast by our hindsight of Christ’s approaching death. The Christ’s last Passover and our first sacrament. The betrayal for silver and pain of hearing the cock crow, knowing too late how we in our weakness and selfishness are willing to betray Him whom we love most.

I remember, not only with the words I taste and the stories I tell, but with my body, as I do not eat.

I started fasting for Lent in small, tentative ways, back in the days when I could not fast each month for the standard LDS prescribed 24 hour period, during those years of pregnancy and nursing. Now that young mother phase has passed, and I can do both fasts. And on those fast Sundays that fall during Lent, I rejoice in the quiet unity I feel with my Mormon brothers and Christian sisters. The denial of the self, through the putting off of my physical and psychological appetites (e.g. chocolate), done in conjunction with so many others is an attempt at unity. It is to leave aside the small persistent concerns of my body to become part of the body of Christ.

And so I fast.  Now, toward the end of the fast, I feel that I have given up very little. I am humbled that I gained so much for what is really nothing more than a gesture. Out of this time of mild denial springs a well of rejoicing. And when Easter comes, I am ready to greet my Lord at the tomb, or the garden, or the wilderness, or wherever He may be found.

14 Responses to Lent

  1. Julie M. Smith on April 3, 2012 at 6:52 pm

    Very nice post.

    “But I am surprised by how many derisive reactions I receive from my fellow Mormons during my fast.”

    Ugh. I’m sorry that happened.

  2. Kevin Barney on April 3, 2012 at 8:23 pm

    Yeah, what’s up with the derisive reactions? I can’t even fathom such a thing. I think your observing Lent is great.

  3. Kurt on April 3, 2012 at 8:53 pm

    Beautiful post, Rachel. Your sincerity is touching.

    It caused me to reflect on what would have happened if Israel anciently were to have universally observed the spirit of Lent as it was intended. It has also rekindled my own desire to ponder on what contemporary religious practices I engage in that may drift at times from divinely-intended soul-searching introspection towards hollowed-out mechanical routine.

    Thank you for such a sweet and revealing post.

  4. jax on April 3, 2012 at 9:15 pm

    I, for one, am not surprised to hear of negative reactions from telling other Mormons you were observing Lent. Because it isn’t well established in Mormon culture I would suspect most mormons don’t even know what it is. And we tend to ridicule or desparage those things we don’t understand… because if it were the ‘right’ thing to do then we would have already been doing it.

    For instance, one easter season I once suggested that we get a local Rabbi to come in and teach us about the Passover dinner since it is what the Savior was eating for his Last Supper. My branch President didn’t know what Passover was and both his counselors thought it was “the stupidest thing I’ve ever heard of”.

  5. Chadwick on April 3, 2012 at 9:45 pm

    Hi Rachel:

    Glad to see you post again.

    When I lived in the OC, a lot of my coworkers were Catholic. I learned so much about the Catholic celebration of Easter, from Fat Tuesday to Ash Wednesday, from Palm Sunday to Good Friday, and I asked myself “If Mormons really think the Resurrection is so important, why don’t we celebrate it like our Catholic neighbors?” I wish Easter were a bigger holiday amongst the LDS culture.

    I too am sorry people have not appreciated your celebration of Lent. But I do have a question: Does anyone fast from anything other than meat and sweets? That seems to be the standard fast. I’ve love to hear of people fasting from raising their voice, or gossiping, or the like, for Lent. All I ever hear about is meat and sweets, though, it seems, and I’ve always wondered whether or not it’s allowed to get more creative than that. For fear of offending my Catholic coworkers, I’ve restrained from asking them.

  6. Rachel Whipple on April 3, 2012 at 10:48 pm

    Thanks for the kind welcome.

    I think jax is right, that many Mormons are just unfamiliar with Lent. Or they figure that we already fast some every month of the year, so we should have a pass on this one. I will say that although I’ve met many Mormons who were incredulous, I’ve also talked with some who are intrigued and would consider adopting something similar in the future. A surprising number have never heard of Lent.

    Like Chadwick, I do wish Easter were a bigger holiday for us, but because it doesn’t have the formal institutional celebration, my observance is more personal; I have to go out of my way to observe Lent and Holy Week, and because I do, it has more personal meaning for me.

    As for different fasts, I know people who give up all sorts of things like watching TV. One fb friend gave up face book for Lent; I’ll see how that went for her after Easter. There are generally agreed upon fasts: Catholics allow dairy products and fish; Eastern Orthodox is all vegan. Because I am neither, I feel free to adapt the practice to my needs and challenges. Last year was the first year I ate neither sweets nor meats, and it was much more difficult that I had anticipated. I generally eat good food, and relatively little meat, so abstaining from either (as I had in alternate years in the past) was pretty easy. But last year, 2 weeks into the fast, I had never wanted a cheeseburger and chocolate mousse pie more in my life. That didn’t happen this year; it hasn’t felt as challenging. But it has felt good, especially on complete fasting days. I think it would be good for me to fast more in general.

  7. Alison Moore Smith on April 4, 2012 at 1:46 am

    Nice post, Rachel. Years ago a homeschooling mom wrote a book about Biblical feasts she sent to me for review. Fascinating — and fun. It was nice to hear your story. I’m surprised that anyone would be bothered. I mean, aren’t most weight loss diets restrictive in some sense?

    Or they figure that we already fast some every month of the year, so we should have a pass on this one.

    We do kind of “have a pass” though, don’t we? At least in the sense that there is no expectation that we must/should/ought to observe it. Still, I think it can be a great experience.

  8. Dave on April 4, 2012 at 8:58 am

    Yes, nice thoughts, Rachel. It would be nice if Mormon culture became a little more open to the larger Christian tradition. A course on the history of Christianity or Christian tradition or religions of the world really ought to be required in the BYU religion curriculum. It might help eliminate some of the narrow Bott-thinking that still circulates at BYU and within the culture of the wider Church. And what an opportunity for inviting visiting scholars from other traditions to come teach the course(s) for a year at BYU!

  9. Kevin Barney on April 4, 2012 at 9:09 am

    Dave, funny you should mention that. My stake has organized a series of adult continuing education seminars over the course of four months, with four different teachers and subjects. My turn comes up starting April 10th, when we’re starting three weekly classes on traditional Christian history. I’m doing the first night on the history of Christianity in the first millennium, the next on the Protestant Reformation, and the third on the rise of Christian Restorationism. Of course given its only three classes it will be on the superficial side, but it will at least give folks a taste, and perhaps intrigue some enough to investigate the subject further on their own.

  10. annegb on April 4, 2012 at 11:17 am

    I gave up facebook (which wasn’t much of a sacrifice) and blogging (harder) for Lent. I did it all whacky as usual. I started a few days after Lent started and ended it last week. It was still a good thing, not from a spiritual standpoint, but it’s helped me to spend less time online now. Brought some perspective.

    From time to time I’ve had spiritual awakenings and given up things in an attempt to improve myself. I’ve never regretted it.

    Jana’s book was inspiring in this regard. Sort of, “it’s okay if you do it imperfectly”–love her.

  11. Robert Ricks on April 4, 2012 at 11:29 am

    Thanks for these thoughtful reflections, Rachel. I decided to give up sweets for Lent this year. A few have had puzzled reactions when I’ve explained after turning down desserts, but most (LDS or not) have been supportive. I agree that a greater awareness and understanding of wider Christian traditions—whether among the laity or leaders—would have a positive effect on our interactions with others and on our spiritual practices.

  12. Sam Brunson on April 4, 2012 at 11:41 am

    Thanks, Rachel, for bringing Holy Week to T&S, amidst the City Creek flames. I, too, would love to improve our liturgical Easter celebration; the Lutheran church next door to my apartment is having Maundy Thursday and Good Friday services and I’m thinking really seriously about going to at least one. (There was a Palm Sunday parade that passed in front of our living room window on Sunday, which was really cool and provided us with a trigger to talk to our girls about Easter and the end of Jesus’ life.)

  13. Frank Pellett on April 4, 2012 at 11:43 am

    I think we avoid having so may celebrations because we don’t want to start pressure for people to spend money and effort on an optional, though enjoyable, celebratory meal. It would be nice for us to at least make an effort to learn about traditions of other faiths, and how we can incorporate them into our vision of a church that has existed in one form or another from the beginning of the world.

    I’ve never felt the need to observe lent myself, but found it cool when Catholic friends of mine did. It helped bolster their faith, and in turn, helped increase my own. Last year, I made a traditional egg bread, and shared it with my primary class to teach them about Easter, even though the tradition is Catholic. The year before I tried making lamb for dinner (which only reaffirmed my lack of cooking skills, but still). Maybe next year, I’ll give lent a try.

    There are so many beautiful traditions, in all religions, that we can use to help us learn the joys of a Heavenly Father who has always watched over His children.

    Chadwick – I’d go ahead and ask your coworkers. Would you be offended if they asked questions about your faith in a respectful manner? The Catholics I’ve known were rather proud of their faith, and are glad to share it with others.

  14. Bonnie on April 4, 2012 at 1:48 pm

    I love that you talk about fasting as a good thing. I think we are missing something really vital in the church when we pass lightly over the great blessings that sacrifice in all its forms offers. Our little wildernesses are times of rest and strengthening, a reset as you say. We didn’t get much chance to talk about Holy Week in GD with GC on Palm Sun. but I did at least send out a note at the beginning of the week outlining some activities to prepare for Passover. Even though it’s part of a law fulfilled, it’s such a rich history. What depth it offers our often very light-hearted, light-minded celebration of Easter. Thank you so much for this post.

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