Some thoughts on Lenten Disciplines

By Dylan Cumberland

In the midst of this Lenten season, people of the church have seemed to become obsessed with the idea of giving something up for Lent. It’s a tradition marked by Friday fish fry dinners at the local Catholic Church or Knights of Columbus Hall, but lately it has become a new spin on a New Years resolution, with people opting to choose to make good dietary decisions under the pretense of giving something up for Lent. I am in no way condemning people who choose to observe Lent in this way; I myself have chosen to give up natural and processed sugars the last three years. I just believe that sometimes we get lost in the noise of deciding upon Lenten disciplines and lose sight of the real meaning of Lent.

The whole idea of giving something up for Lent stems from the ancient church practice of penitence and denial of self; during that time we remember the sacrifice of Jesus Christ for our sins. In the Middle Ages, St. Thomas Aquinas argued that meat, eggs, and dairy products be forbidden because they gave way to excess and lead to lustful behavior. While I do feel that it is a bit extreme, I see the value and even encourage people to practice self denial as a means of communing with God. This belief has manifested itself in the modern age in terms of people fasting from Facebook and other social networking sites.

The idea behind fasting is that when we alter our daily routine, we are made to think on why we are giving something up, causing a disruption to our day and leading us to think of the Ultimate Disruption, the challenging message that Jesus brought with Him in which he told us to take up our cross and follow Him. In Mainline Protestant denominations, particularly Methodism, we have begun the practice of not giving something up, but taking something on. This is a new spin on denial of self, causing us to be intentional in changing up our routine in ways that encourage us to be healthier either physically, spiritually, or emotionally. A pastor friend of mine has decided to walk 10,000 steps a day, leading to a disruption of her daily routine, which will cause her to live healthier and perhaps become  spiritually healthier too, because her daily walks will allow her to commune with God. I myself have decided to give something up and also take something on, electing to continue giving up processed and natural sugars and setting aside 30 minutes each day to be completely unplugged from the world.

The purpose of this post is not to suggest what Lenten disciples you take up, but to aid in the decision making process as the door closes on Ash Wednesday and we face Lent 2014 in earnest. This time of penitence and introspection is a long and proud tradition in the Church, but do not give in to peer pressure or dietary trends. Instead of focusing on Lenten disciplines that feed your body, I humbly suggest that you focus on disciplines that feed your soul.

Christ came with a message so revolutionary, so counter to what the world believed and continues to believe, that we shut the door on Him and tried to hide from Him. This Lent, don’t hide your light under a bushel; let it shine and let your soul thrive so that on Easter we can greet the rising of God with fresh eyes and a renewed faith.

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