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This has been the year of the church calendar for me. I have been encouraged as I remembered the lives of former believers on All Saints Day, and I have rejoiced as I remembered the coming of our Lord. Now the season of fasting is quickly coming, and though I am not one for giving up food, I am actually looking forward to it. My first Lent. Most of my fellow Protestant friends do not observe this season of the year, and I grew up thinking that it was something only Catholics did, not Presbyterians. This year, it’s for me.

So I am learning about Lent, a forty-day (excluding Sundays) season of fasting, reflection, and repentance in preparation for the observation of Easter. The practice of fasting before Easter is apparently very old, for Irenaeus (late 2nd century, early 3rd) indicated that a one to two day fast had been going on since “the time of our forefathers” (Catholic Education Resource Center). In the fourth century, the forty-day fast was becoming regularized, and in the fifth, Pope St. Leo insisted upon it.

ChurchYear.Net has a nice summary of the purpose of Lenten season:

The purpose of Lent is to be a season of fasting, self-denial, Christian growth, penitence, conversion, and simplicity. Lent […] can be viewed as a spiritual spring cleaning: a time for taking spiritual inventory and then cleaning out those things which hinder our corporate and personal relationships with Jesus Christ and our service to him. Thus it is fitting that the season of Lent begin with a symbol of repentance: placing ashes mixed with oil on one’s head or forehead. However, we must remember that our Lenten disciplines are supposed to ultimately transform our entire person: body, soul, and spirit. Our Lenten disciplines are supposed to help us become more like Christ. Eastern Christians call this process theosis, which St. Athanasius aptly describes as “becoming by grace what God is by nature.”

So what am I going to do? I plan on fasting on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, spending more time in prayer and scripture reading, reflecting on the crucifiction and resurrection, and giving up something that I tend to overdo–sugar. I know it sounds trite to give up sweets, but as my wife can testify, it really is something that I value and look forward to. Maybe I will give up eating meat on Friday, but perhaps I should take it easy on my first Lent. The main goal, of course, is spiritual reflection on self and on Christ.

What about you? Do you have any particular Lenten experiences or traditions that you would like to share?

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