Lent, or why we celebrate somebody else’s holiday

Every year for the Christian holiday of Lent, that period of 40 days of fasting and contemplation that comes before Easter, my family goes vegetarian. Last year we ate vegan except on the weekends. This year we're going with the ovo-lacto with fish on the weekends version of vegetarianism because of our fourteen year old son. With the help of teen growth spurt, He's gone from pudgy to "help me, the pants that were tight yesterday are falling off today". He's convinced that he'll starve if we go vegan and I'm convinced that I'll go insane trying to figure out how to convince him that he won't.

A friend asked me why we celebrate Lent when we're not Christians. Even A lot of Christians eschew Lent these days, considering it to be too grim and penitential for modern Christianity. It's a part of my personal spiritual heritage and it's one with a lot of positive energy for me. It is true that we could do something like Lent at some completely different time of year as so not to confuse people. The thing is, if you live in a part of the world where there is a large Catholic, Orthodox or other population that does Lent, there is a built-in support system all around you at this time of year. It's easy to do Lent at Lent. Why re-invent the wheel? Here, even Bill Miller's, that Texas temple of Barbecue, has a WE HAVE FISH! sign at this time of year. Don't ask for fish at Bill Miller's in July, folks, because you aren't getting any.

Lent doesn't have to be all about "giving things up", though I admit that my kids still view Lent as the "giving up meat" time instead of the "experiencing a different way of eating" time. We try to keep the focus on "different" instead of deprivation. We try vegetable dishes we've never made before. We look for fruits and veggies that we don't commonly eat. Lenten eating is the reason we all like plantains now. Tomatillos didn't go as well, but we might try them again prepared differently.

What do I get out of Lent other than an opportunity to get my family to try new things? It's a great way for us to schedule some contemplative time into our yearly holiday cycle. A lot of people do a little first of the year planning and goal-making and New Year's resolution making. Lent offers a ready made space of time to do that in our spiritual life. It's a great time to think about one's relationship to one's faith and how one expresses that in this world. One of the most important concepts in my spiritual life is the idea of "right relationship". Because I'm very interested in environmental causes and because I believe in the sacredness of all Creation(and also creation, for the metaphysicists among us;-)), Lent is a time for me to consider how I live and what impact that has in the world, physically and spiritually. It's time for me to consider my "right relationship" with the world, or Gaia, if you prefer.

So that's our Lent. Not my godmother's Lent, but it works for me.

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