Faith Matters

Following the suffering Christ

Discipleship-as-self-improvement doesn’t much resemble the way of Jesus.

Dorothy Day gave up smoking for Lent every year. Apparently, this made her so irritable that friends prayed she would take it up again, which she did. Thus the determination to quit the next year, and the next.

Lent can be relentless. There’s so much of the body in it. This isn’t surprising, since Lent prefigures the Passion: a human body’s experience—at the hands of imperial power—of abuse and torture, suffering and death. Lent is also preparation for Easter, when Christians make the absurd claim that Jesus’ body has been raised—and that through ritual actions involving water, wine, and bread, another body is constituted to do his bidding in a world of abuse and torture, suffering and death.

I have often found myself wanting to fix something about my own body during Lent: giving up guilty pleasures of one kind or another, or doing good deeds that might make me feel better about myself. But discipleship-as-self-improvement doesn’t much resemble the way of the crucified Jesus. For those whose bodies are privileged, varyingly so in a culture like ours, what does keeping a holy Lent look like?