Each year, I fast for Lent. The process is always transformative. After doing something for forty days, it becomes easier to maintain the discipline after Easter. The habit becomes a part of me, and my cravings shift. And so, over the years, I stopped consuming fried things, sugary drinks, and meat. I’ve learned to appreciate my wheat whole instead of bleached.
Lent is early this year, so it coincides with Black History Month for a full 18 days.
This overlap of sacred and secular calendars proves doubly sacred for Christians in the U.S. The sacred journey of Lent leads us to the cross—at the end of Jesus’ life of healing ministry and preaching good news to the poor. The sacred journey of Black History Month leads us to the lynching tree—as well as to African American innovators such as the man who developed modern blood storage and transfusion.
I try not to get too worked up about the commercialization of church holidays. It seems inevitable in our culture, in which most people are at least nominally Christian yet the real national faith is capitalism. The Christmas shopping season is annoying and the Easter candy aisles are dangerous, but it seems futile to rail against things that are more symptom than illness.
It is pretty perplexing, however, when marketers try to capitalize on Lent.
My Lenten practice has almost involved some kind of endurance. As a child I usually gave up something like chocolate or sweets. My practice evolved into committing to walk to the grocery store or buy nothing but food or, one year, give up plastic.
But regardless of what I took on or gave up, I have always intended for this to last through all of Lent. The practice ends—or finds a new form—at Holy Week, and the endurance test ends with it.
This year, Lent has an entirely different rhythm for me—because of a book by writer and Benedictine oblate Paula Huston.