Ash Wednesday, which is observed this week, is not the cheeriest of liturgical days, bringing us the lesson that we came from dust, and we will return to dust. In between our bracketing days of dust, we spend our time dodging life’s terrifying and random Roomba assaults.
It’s the season opener of a 40-day stretch of sacrifice and abstinence to somberly commemorate Jesus’ 40 days spent in the wilderness, enduring Satan’s relentless temptations while fasting and praying.
These days, while it’s still observed by the faithful who give up things they love in sacrifice, or take up the doing of good deeds for the duration, Lent has made the crossover into the secular world where it’s taken on the role of an abbreviated version of a New Year’s resolution, and one with an escape clause that can be sprung when it ends on Easter Sunday.
It’s often embraced enthusiastically by atheists and agnostics as a way to work out their willpower and show off their ability to take a 40-day break from any number of vices, including the popular satanic trinity of alcohol, sugar and tobacco.
And they often exhibit an untoward habit of bragging about their sacrifices, which to a true Christian is like broadcasting your birthday wish. Keep it under your hat; bragging negates whatever indulgences you might rack up toward improving the conditions of your afterlife.
If you’re flummoxed about what to give up for Lent, there are some good tips on the web (the use of which you might consider giving up; or at the very least Facebook, Instagram and/or Twitter), including catholicsistas.com, which suggests things like giving up TV, beauty products, dining out, hot showers, the snooze button on your alarm clock, the radio in your car. Again, just for 40 days. It’s a sacrifice, not a life-change. That’s what your New Year’s resolution is for, if you haven’t thoroughly abandoned that little self-improvement hobby by now.
Some people, rather than give up a cherished vice or other bad habit, might consider doing good for a few weeks rather than eschewing bad things. Volunteer. Do good deeds. Attempt acts of kindness.
The shrewd observer of Lent will litter his or her Lenten contract with codicils and riders, with liberal uses of the words “unless” and “except.” I had a cousin who gave up alcohol for Lent every years, except on his wedding anniversary, St. Patrick’s Day and a wild-card day that he usually squandered before Ash Week was over.
Happily, Lent comes with six built-in loopholes, because Sundays are bye-days during the season, as they’re celebrated as “mini-Easters,” little joyful holidays during the otherwise sacrificial stretch (a fact that should satisfy you pedants who have already noted the fact that there’s 46 days between Lent and Easter).
And now I sense your palpable curiosity about what I’m giving up for Lent, despite the fact that I’ve already warned you that sacrifice loses its mojo once it’s blathered about.
When I was young, living at home and subjected daily to my mom’s cooking, which was like what you’d expect if “The Gulag Archipelago” was a cookbook, my ultimate sacrifice was to give up ketchup, the only known antidote for her concoctions that invariably included canned tuna, boiled-to-death asparagus and crumbled stale potato chips.
I can’t think of anything today that would match that in terms of sacrifice except maybe a teeth-shatteringly chilled Bombay gin martini, and if I go that route, I’m going to need a lot more Lenten loopholes. Maybe I’ll just go back to giving up ketchup.
Tim Grobaty is a columnist and the Opinions Editor for the Long Beach Post. You can reach him at 562-714-2116, email [email protected], @grobaty on Twitter and Grobaty on Facebook.
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