Lent makes less and less sense in a world of instant consumerism. When we want something, often it requires just a login and password. If we are fortunate, perhaps it will just require an old fashioned transaction. Either way, we live in an economy of performance. We expect items to perform for us. We take what we need to accomplish the task before us. None of these rules make sense in Lent.
There is no magic to Lent. The word itself comes from the word, "spring." It hearkens back to a time when the church year dominated civil life. Lent happened in the spring, and the spring was the time to prepare for Easter - 40 days before Easter to be exact, not including Sundays. Forty is an important number for the Judeo-Christian tradition. Sundays were meant to be a time of Sabbath, so those were not included in the harsh work of contrition and preparation. In the medieval and post-medieval times, Lent was seen as a time of reckoning - of preparing the soul by way of confession and contrition. It was a time of giving up all that was good for the body to enlarge and strengthen the soul for good. In recent times it has been seen as more of a time of religious pietism. The devout give up mild carnal pleasures to make more space for the movement of the Spirit. I have met people who have given up everything from chocolate to social media. But what is the wisdom, if any, in this ancient practice? Can it offer something to everyone, or is it just for the stubbornly religious?
At it's heart, Lent strives to acknowledge that the world as-it-is is not the world as-it-should-be. There is a disconnect between what we hope for and what we take in through our senses on a daily basis. Lent beckons us to notice this dissonance rather than ignore it. It calls us gently to name our sorrows, our griefs, and our short-comings. Perhaps the ancient wisdom of Lent recognizes that the human does not choose to do this naturally, and needs just a tender nudge to pause on the underside of human life.
Does this mean Lent is a celebration of grief? No, rather it is using the stuff of grief to move in the direction of life. Lent does not celebrate grief. It persists through it to the other side. It is resiliently optimistic about what lies on the other side of grief, and it fiercely desires to see us through.
In this sense, Lent holds quite the opposite values that we know are practiced in this world. In a culture of performance, Lent asks us to stop. In a culture of consumerism, Lent moves in the realm of the intangible. In a world of instants, Lent patiently wonders of an eternal. Perhaps this is a practice not just for the pious, but for all humans not willing to reduce their experience into the pennies and pixels of the marketplace.