For many people, the tradition of abstinence in Lent has outlived the religious commitment that gave it its rationale. Lent is a season of preparation - and hence, traditionally, people fasted and saved richer foods and other pleasures until the Easter celebrations came around. That's why Shrove Tuesday is a time to use up those foods before the season began, and what better way than to make pancakes.
In churches that do Lent by the book, the robes and furnishings that are seasonally coloured go purple to signal a more sombre mood, the words of the service adopt a more penitential tone. We also avoid saying or singing 'alleluia' (which immediately makes me think of a scene in Life of Brian where someone is accused of saying 'Jehovah'!)
But how could you make that more meaningful? How could adopting a discipline become something more than simply a personal or individualistic piece of tokenism?
Here are a few suggestions:
- Tear Fund's Carbon Fast. Learn about the impact of our lifestyles in the West on the poor in the world, identify actions you can take, join in campaigns and raise awareness. Daily email available for reminders and ideas.
- Visit http://sayoneforme.org/ and write a prayer. 6 Church of England Bishops are committed to using prayers you provide!
- Christian Aid provides a calendar in pdf format to 'Count Your Blessings'. Each day has a statistic or piece of information about the developing world and an action or donation relating to it. Save up the donations and send it in at the end. Gift Aid it if you can.
- CAFOD, the Catholic aid angency has a Give It Up for Lent 2010 resource which aims to link what you give up to donations you make.
- If you use Twitter, why not post a tweet about Lent, what it means to you, or what action you are taking. Don't forget to add a 'hashtag' #Lent to make your tweet easy to find for others.