What is Lent Anyway?

One of the things that has changed the most in my personal life of religious practice over the last couple of decades has been my understanding of an appreciation for Lent. “No surprises there,” you might say, since I grew up in a more contemporary Christian tradition and now work my vocation as a leader in a more liturgical setting. But I don’t really think I’m alone.

Growing up, no one other than my smattering of Catholic friends and maybe a few Episcopalians (whom I also thought were Catholics) ever said anything about Lent. And, even when they did, they only talked about “giving up” this thing or that in the winter “until Easter,” never about the other ways in which their pietys or practices changed or for how long. From this vantage, it seems like it was a big secret.

Whether the secrecy of it all was simply the naivete of youth, a vestige of a more anti-Catholic time in my rural town, or something else in unclear. Suffice it to say that, these days, not only have I learned more about what Lent is and means (again, “no surprise”) but when I talk with others in the wider community, they seem to have a better understanding of it, too; no matter what their background or upbringing. Though I might not be able to stop the average “person on the street” and engage them about Lent, it seems that I can, in fact, talk with friends and colleagues from a number of Christians traditions about it and get a cogent response.

So, what is Lent?

Lent is a period of 40-ish days (more on that later) before Easter when Christians from many traditions intentionally “up” their spiritual game in preparation for Easter.  This may look like fasting (giving something up) or works of piety/charity (taking something on). It may also be something that cannot be readily seen from the outside. It might take no specific shape at all. No matter what, though, the Season of Lent and its practices are intended to prepare us, each in our own way and all of us together, for the celebration of Easter – this year on April 1st.

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