I don’t know where the word Lent comes from, and sparing you time (and me a Wikipedia search) I’ll forego an exploration of etymological roots here.
When I was younger (and with a poorer grasp of English) and heard the word or sound “Lent” the following images were conjured up:
- borrowing and lending
- leaning or being propped up against something
- or that fluff-stuff that accumulates in the tumble-dryer (I know, I know - lint).
It’s only as I write this that I’m reflecting on what Lent is for me in practice. Up to now I’ve treated it like a game, an endurance-test where I try and give up something for 6 weeks or so. I’ve attempted to give up puddings, tea, chocolate and swearing in the past. Tea was the worst – after just 12 hours I was being struck by cranial-crunching caffeine-withdrawal headaches, guiltily reaching for the kettle with one hand and the PG Tips caddy with the other.
Reaching Easter Sunday with my Lenten promise intact, was (in my head) like winning a proverbial egg-and-spoon race – with real chocolate Easter eggs waiting on the podium. I reckon my Lenten competitive career probably is on a par with the England football team’s successes in World Cups; lots of hype, lots of promise but only making it to the quarter-finals.
But is this what Lent is all about – just giving up something for one-ninth of the year?
Just today, after a group discussion with Fr James Hanvey SJ and other Parliamentary interns, I’ve come to appreciate Lent differently. And maybe I was correct when I was younger (see above).
- It’s a gift. We are being “lent” borrowed time to use creatively, to re-order ourselves.
- It’s a time to gain freedom from material and non-material things we don’t really need. No more “he leant upon caffeine/cigarettes/cursing to get him through the day” – instead, “he was free, and claiming back his independence”
- It’s a time to purify. Just as the Newman House tumble-dryer humbly requests you clear the filter, we all operate best when clean.
I’m not too sure where I’m going with Lent this year, but I know I’m on a journey and steering. Aren’t we all?