I’ve decided to observe Lent again after a long time away from church. But I’m doing it in reverse.
Lent was started a long, long time ago by Catholics to imitate Jesus’ forty-day fast in the wilderness. It’s often compared to Ramadan or Yom Kippur, but it’s pretty rare for people to actually fast for Lent anymore.
Usually, we fast or deny ourselves of something we enjoy for forty days before Easter. For protestants, a lot of people give up meat or alcohol or sweets.
One year I observed the Greek Orthodox Lent with a friend. We gave up dairy, meat, fish, olive oil and wine — things that would have been symbols of living the good life back when the Orthodox Church leaders chose them. But I was vegetarian off and on through those years and I used almond milk in my coffee, so it kind of defeated the purpose.
The idea is that when we crave the things we deny ourselves, we remember to pray and focus on more serious, spiritual matters. One year, I gave up television. Now THAT was a long forty days. I did a lot of praying.
These days, I’m working to heal what I now understand to be a dysfunctional relationship with religion. I’ve been taking a break from that world, so I haven’t observed Lent in years. But I feel a surprisingly strong desire to get back to it this year.
Religious Trauma — A Perpetual State of Lent
The problem is, I don’t want to go back to what I had. I need something new. I feel like I’ve lived in a perpetual state of Lent most of my life. It’s only gotten worse with age. I started PlayGrounding because I’ve had such a hard time letting go to enjoy anything at all.
My lists of shoulds and shouldn’ts couldn’t be any longer than they already are. How could adding one more during the Lenten season help? I carry the weight of the world on my shoulders whether the world knows it or not. It’s shaped my brain and made it really hard to enjoy life without crushing shoulds and shouldn’ts lurking around every corner.
Embracing Joy Means Giving Something Up
So if I’m going to observe Lent this year, I am going to stand the concept on its head. But not really. Every day, I’m going to take a full hour (at least) to do something fun — extra points if it brings me actual joy. It doesn’t sound like I’m giving anything up, does it? But I am.
I’m giving up self-importance — the feeling that if I take a break, the world will fall apart.
I’m giving up martyr status — that I was somehow put on this planet to serve others’ joy and never my own.
I’m giving up self-flagellation.
I’m giving up the delusion that if I just be really, really good, everything will be better.
It might sound crazy, but I will crave these things. I will crave them because they’ve given me a sense of purpose for as long as I can remember. They’ve become part of who I am. But I’ve been learning that they don’t have to STAY a part of who I am.
The Spiritual Dimension of Play
I’ve resisted any kind of discussion about “spiritual” things on PlayGrounding, but the more I learn, the more I realize that play has a very spiritual dynamic. I’m going to be exploring that, not from the perspective of any one religion. I’m just observing Lent from one specific tradition because it’s what I grew up with and it’s part of what I need to heal.
I am going to consider the lilies, meditate and contemplate the role of worry in my life. I’m going to reverse the logic of a world that tells me I have to work until I drop.
And when Easter Sunday comes along, I am going to celebrate the beauty of new life — how resilient we can be and how beautiful it is to be alive in this crazy world. I want to be like the birds and the lily — beautiful just because I am, not because I do.