For some followers of Jesus, Ash Wednesday is little more than a notation on their calendar, whereas for others, it is a meaningful spiritual holiday. For them, it signals the beginning of a time of giving up something for Lent. This has always puzzled me.
If what is being given up is a bad trait, practice, or characteristic, then why wait for Ash Wednesday to alter our behavior? (See my post on making New Year’s Resolutions.) And if what is being given up is a beneficial or enjoyable practice, why suffer without it? Though I do acknowledge that this can be for the same reason that we fast; fasting is a mystery to me, albeit a beautiful one. Giving up something for Lent can have a parallel significance.
However, what bothers me about Ash Wednesday is actually what precedes it. This goes by different names, such as Fat Tuesday, Carnival, or Mardi Gras, and is often characterized by gluttonous eating or revelry and debauchery. It’s as if a time of holy reverence can rightly be preceded by unholy depravity. That seems akin to an alcoholic intentionally embarking on one last binge just before entering rehab.
Ash Wednesday is a beautiful kick-off to a season of deep reflection, ushering in a journey to Good Friday and then Easter. But that’s not an excuse to cut loose in the days prior to it.
What does Ash Wednesday and Lent mean to you?
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