Last Sunday, I attended a worship service at the National Cathedral of Saint Peter and Saint Paul with one of my blogging friends, Suzanne of Zanne Ado. It was the last Sunday of Epiphany, which means today is the first Sunday of Lent. I'll come back to that in a moment.
Many of you may or may not know that Mormons do not use a prayer book or follow a liturgical calendar. That's not to say Mormons don't celebrate high, holy holidays. They do. There's Easter and Christmas, of course, but from a liturgical, ritualistic standpoint, they're pretty simple and there's not a lot of lead up to these special days like there is in the Catholic and Protestant denominations. There aren't 40 days of lenten sacrifice ushering in the blessed morn of Easter, if you're a Mormon. Easter is usually signalled by one of two things: someone reminding you that, oh yeah, next Sunday is Easter and don't forget to wear your shiny new Easter outfit or you're reminded that the Church's semi-annual General Conference is going to fall on that exact weekend. And that's pretty much it. I'm not saying it's wrong, but I'm also not saying it's right. It just is.
Now, getting back to Lent.
Today is the first Sunday of Lent, which--as I understand it--actually began a few days ago with Ash Wednesday. Lent is a 40 day period of fasting and prayer leading up to the commemoration of the trial, crucifixion, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, who Christians believe is the Son of God and the Savior and Redeemer of humankind. It's a contemplative period that comes on the heels of a celebratory period--Advent and Epiphany--highlighting the birth and anointing of Jesus. During Lent, the faithful are meant to "sacrifice" something at this time of year. By sacrifice, it is generally understood that the penitent will give up a habit that is detrimental to their spiritual growth.
Every year, my former admin from my days at the Big Industry Trade Association, gives up sweets for Lent. A noble sacrifice, as it results in improved physical health and clarity of mind for her. And, it is a struggle for her. Others may give up alcohol or television or some other thing that they feel is not benefitting them positively.
All that to say that last Sunday I asked Suzanne what she was going to "give up for Lent." She said, in essence, "Oh, I don't do that anymore. It's so negative in its focus." She then went on to mention a friend who, several years ago, gave her a whole new perspective on Lent. She said, "Now for Lent, I take on something that I want to add to my life or that I want to improve on, which is much more positive in focus."
In other words, instead of a sacrifice that implies there's something wrong with her life, she takes on something that will improve on her strengths and make her a better person. Maybe it's the same thing and it's splitting hairs here, because either way she accomplishes the goal of Lent; i.e. becoming a better person through sacrifice. But I like the idea. Rather than focusing on what I'm doing wrong that's holding me down, I should focus on what I do well and how that can bring me up.
I had a conversation this week with my friend, Diana, about a job I'm applying for and how the position is very much outside my realm of ability. In other words, I was focusing on what I wouldn't be doing and how it was beneath me. She, on the other hand, smacked me like Cher and said I should focus on what I do well and find work that let's me shine. This said on the heels of one of my clients who said the same thing, which came on the heels of my mom who said something similiar.
That said, for Lent this year, instead of giving up, I am taking on. Because ultimately that's what Lent is suppose to be about. It isn't a celebration of giving up, of resignation. It's a celebration of taking up something new or building on what is already good about each of us, about myself. To some small degree, too, I suppose it's about giving to ourselves the best we can be and giving to others the best that we are. At least, that's what I'm taking up for Lent.
Photo copyright: Janet M Kincaid