I went through a phase in high school where I was Presbyterian. Although it was more of a social activity — their youth group went to Schlitterbahn! — I still found myself being both confirmed (after a long series of confirmation classes which were at least informative if not particularly spiritual) and baptized in front of the entire congregation one Sunday.
After this, I participated in Lent each year. And although I didn’t entirely understand why, I solemnly agreed to give up such terrific vices as chocolate or thinking evil thoughts against the trashy girls who left mean notes in my locker. Of course, in college I was baptized once again — this time in an old-school Church of Christ — since my previous baptism wasn’t considered legitimate. It seems that no one has seen fit to develop a Euro of Christian rites and rituals, which would be accepted as valid currency from denomination to denomination.
These days, I’m more spiritual — if anything — than I was in high school yet don’t attend church any kind of regular basis. And I’m not Presbyterian anymore (that second baptism apparently removed all traces of any earlier membership in the church), so I don’t take part in Lent anymore. That said, I understand and appreciate that other people do. I’m always fascinated with the intersection of religion and food (hence the recent Joel Osteen vs. bacon article), and Lent is an interesting time of year to ponder what few food-related mandates modern Christian churches still recognize.
If you think about it, modern-day Christians don’t have too many issues around food. You eat what you want. There are no dietary restrictions. Few people fast, and most of those only do so during periods such as the 40 days of Lent. Compare that to Jewish or Muslim or Hindu faiths, where strict dietary laws mean that what you put into your mouth is just as important as what you harbor in your heart, where feasts such as Eid al-Fitr serve as celebrations of faith and community, and where fasts such as Yom Kippur bring you closer to God through atonement and deprivation.
Lent is one of the few times that Christians look at food through a spiritual lens. Catholics take the season a bit more seriously than their Protestant cousins, fully abstaining from eating meat on Fridays during the 40 days. Most people, however, simply decide upon a food or beverage that they’ll give up during the season and go without alcohol or sweets for a little over a month. These are popular items to give up, hence the popularity of the hedonistic revelry of Mardi Gras or Carneval immediately preceding Lent.
Lent is intended to remind Christians of the 40 days that Jesus Christ spent in the desert wilderness, resisting the temptations that Satan put before him, and to prepare them for the coming festival of Easter and celebration of Christ’s resurrection. Giving up certain foods or vices or activities is a modern means of resisting temptation, all the while awaiting the glories that lay ahead — both in the form of spiritual glory and in the glory of finally being able to eat chocolate cake or drink a beer again.
Do you celebrate Lent? If so, what are you giving up this year? And for those of you that are giving up food or beverage, did you have a final indulgence in your chosen item last night? Don’t lie…I know at least some of you did. Spill it below.