Is there Lent after 40?
At lunch yesterday M. mentioned that she was having a hard time coming up with something to give up for Lent because at 40, with two kids, she’d pretty much already given up all of her vices. We talked about how in today’s world, there were so many workarounds that you could give up something and never feel deprived at all.
The congregation to which I belong doesn’t observe the Lenten fast, but we do fast as a community twice a year—during the month of January to bring in the new year, and then again in July leading up to our anniversary celebration. I admit that I’m usually quite pissy about the January fast because it usually starts around my birthday, and I want to celebrate! And usually I use that as an excuse to just skip it. This year was the first time that I looked forward to the fast, celebrating the two days before my birthday instead, and having some quiet time for myself after church the day of my actual birthday. (M. said that her birthday usually falls during Lent, a fact she wasn’t thrilled about. But this year, now that she’s in her 40s, she was looking forward to the time of focus and fasting.)
I gave up watching television, which felt like a pretty big sacrifice even though I neither have cable nor an antenna. But I do have a list of shows I watch online, and especially with Downton Abbey starting during the fast, it felt significant. Talking with M. today I realized that while I did observe the TV fast the entire 21 days, I didn’t really lose anything by it because everything I wanted to watch was accessible online after the air date. This isn’t like when I was growing up when, if you missed something on TV, you missed it unless you could catch it in reruns over the summer.
We talked too about how it was fairly easy to focus on the deprivation aspect of Lent without ever actually focusing on the Jesus aspect. And I wondered if it wasn’t more appropriate that instead of “giving something up”— which might not be that meaningful—we instead committed to doing something that put our focus squarely on God. Like reading a chapter of the Bible every day and writing a journal entry or poem in response. Or making it a point to do a mitzvah for someone every day.
We didn’t come to any conclusions but I do want to spend some time thinking more about what fasting means. I understand it as a Biblical precept, but what does it mean in human terms, particularly to a human living in the 21st century. Your thoughts?