Sunday, April 4, 2010

Denoting Lenten Sacrifice One Brownie at a Time

Easter Sunday brings us to the end of “Holy Week,” or rather the start of the new season of “The Great Fifty Days,” as Holy Week proper is the last week of Lent, and includes the holy “big ones” of Palm Sunday, Maundy Thursday, and Good Friday, but ends on Saturday, the day before Easter. Of course, that’s just the Christians. Those of the Jewish faith just completed the celebration of Passover, commemorating the Hebrew’s escape from enslavement in Egypt. This year, we saw a coincidental overlap, which always brings good times. [Not knowing anything of substance about the Islamic calendar, I can't offer up any additional quirky scheduling conflicts]  There’s simply nothing like dueling religious headlines in the paper; some celebratory, some scandal-ridden; and all clouding the coverage of March Madness.

Lent is a peculiarly odd church season, at least in this guy’s eyes. Well, not so much the church season, but how so many of its celebrants choose to recognize it. Traditionally Lent’s purpose is the proper preparation of the believer, through prayer, penitence, almsgiving, and self-denial, and the season takes place beginning Ash Wednesday (40 days prior to Palm Sunday) and concludes either on the Ninth Hour of Holy Thursday (44 days) or on Holy Saturday (46 days).

Now, back in the day, and whenever those days were, they certainly pre-dated me, Lent was marked by fasting, both from foods and festivities, and accompanied by other acts of penance. Traditionally, leading up to Easter, the faithful reinvigorated their practices of prayer, justice towards God, fasting, justice towards self, and almsgiving, justice towards neighbor. That, as I said, was “then,” in the old days.

Today, of course, is the “now,” and cursory observation suggests a new traditional offering of devotion.

Today, Lent is preceded, and celebrated almost globally, regardless of religious affiliation, by Mardi Gras, the literal translation of which is “Fat Tuesday.” Well, truth be told, Mardi Gras has always preceded Lent; it’s not just today – the whole idea was to indulge yourself in the fatty foods that you’d be cutting out over the next 44 to 46 days. You know, like the fat dude who will stuff his face the day before undergoing a gastric bypass surgery. Eat, baby, eat, ‘cause those days are about to be lost forever!

For Mardi Gras now, most people don’t even know Lent follows – it’s just another excuse to get completely shit-faced and have a rollicking good time. Nothing wrong with that, as I’m sure you’re aware of my particular proclivities. What strikes me as a bit weird is the self-denial part.

Let’s think about this. For the Christian believer, Easter is the celebration of the rise of Christ from the dead, and his ascension into heaven, three days after he died for the sins of the many.

Read slowly: Jesus’ sacrifice was dying a prolonged, agonizing death staked to a cross for over 6 hours in the searing sun to atone for the sins of others.

Now, that’s a sacrifice. On the scale of things that really suck, with 0 being a cooler of free, cold beer, to 10 being sentenced to standing on your head in six inches of foamy diarrhea for an eternity in Hell, I’d rank that a solid 9.

So, with an eye toward Lenten traditions, what might constitute a sacrifice, an act of self-denial, that would be a symbolic tribute of such an unselfish act? Look, I’m hardly the poster boy for either angelic behavior or the supreme provider of social well-being, but really, does cutting out deserts from your diet for 40 days really rate?


Religious observance is up to each of us individually, and my mindful eye is always careful to distinguish between organized religion and spirituality. I’ve got nothing against organized religion – in fact, I’m grateful for it. Without religion, which has always been about humans trying to control our own self-destructive behavior, each and every day would be like a Friday night bachelor party in Las Vegas – within two generations we would devolve to a complete idiocracy.

Ever the optimist, I’m holding out hope in humankind. One of the faithful or not, we all have much more in common than we do in difference. The foundational concepts of Lent are somewhat solid – we could certainly follow much more self-destructive behaviors. Coupled with the principles of giving and providing to those in need – damn, we could really get some good done. Maybe it’s something we should try every day!

Of course, that’s a big change. I’m going to have to build up to that slowly. So, until next February, I’m going to treat every day like Fat Tuesday. That way, I can beat the rush.

Of course, that’s just this guy’s opinion.

Tweet me up @RayHartjen

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