I was raised Catholic, so I am familiar with the season of abstinence and penitence known as Lent. It begins on February 13 this year and lasts for 46 days, ending on Easter Eve (March 30).
Observing Lent generally entails giving up something to which one is dearly attached: sugar, alcohol, sex–the really important stuff (or, if you prefer, vices). I don’t recall that we strictly observed Lent in our house, so I haven’t done a 40+-day fast from anything, ever.
Last night I watched one of my favorite foodie movies, Chocolat, about a mysterious woman and her young daughter who arrive one day in a small, conservative village and open a chocolate shop at the start of Lent. The local mayor takes great umbrage at this temptress and her wares, to the latter of which he ultimately succumbs in a wrenching scene that always makes me cry.
When the mayor is temporarily incapacitated on Easter Sunday morning, the young priest in the village, Pere Henri, is left without the elder man’s guidance to deliver the homily. So he finds his own voice, and tells his congregation:
I think we can’t go round measuring our goodness by what we don’t do, by what we deny ourselves, what we resist, and who we exclude. I think we’ve got to measure goodness by what we embrace, what we create, and who we include.
I struggle with too much of some things (pastry, perhaps?), too little of other things (exercise, definitely), and a lot of guilt about not being good enough, not doing enough, not doing things right enough. Catholic guilt runs deep in my veins.
But this movie has gotten me thinking about a new project I’ve been incubating for awhile, and wondering how I might offer that up as a penance, of sorts, for all the neglect I’ve heaped upon my muse and my talents all my life. Because when god gives you a talent, he expects you not only to use it but also to increase it.
As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace. ~ 1 Peter 4:10 ESV
A new goal for Lent could be to create something new each day for 46 days. I’m already doing that with my blog posts, but there’s plenty more that could be done. I could complete one original photograph, have one authentic personal communication with someone I care about, do one act of kindness for a stranger, make one health-affirming choice for my own benefit, sit for one minute in meditation, add one dollar to my rainy day fund, every day. I could add and create and include, just as the priest suggests, rather than subtracting, renouncing and excluding. Every day could be a clean slate upon which to write yet another list of good things done with joy rather than just another arid trek in painful abnegation and bad things not done with resentment.
Imagine how a practice such as that would expand the heart over the course of seven and a half weeks. One might even discover entirely new aspects of oneself, or resurrect aspects that have been hidden for decades. Wouldn’t a god who loves us rejoice in that?
I like that idea, a lot, and I’m going to give it a try. I invite everyone to join me.