Today is Ash Wednesday, and many of my friends from other Christian denominations are attending services and going without a certain luxury or giving up a personal vice as they begin their observance of Lent.
I’ve discovered through my years of living in the Beehive State that there are a lot of members of the LDS faith here in Utah that know very little about Lent. Most assume that it is just a Catholic observance, when in actuality many Christian denominations participate. The holiday is part of the Roman Catholic tradition, to be sure, but Lutheran, Methodist, and Episcopalian congregations, and many other branches of the faith also recognize it.
As far as the Latter-Day Saint tradition is concerned, the Lenten season is not observed in a traditional way. In fact, Jenna Jones, an LDS script writer for Jon Stewart’s The Daily Show has quipped, “Mormons don’t participate in Lent because being Mormon is like Lent 24/7. The only thing left to give up is dessert. & NO ONE’S TAKING THAT FROM ME!”
Her thoughts, while humorous and very tongue-in-cheek, are actually worth noting– because as Latter Day Saints, we are constantly trying to come unto Christ and leaving our baggage at the door. Every Sunday we seek to remember the Atonement of the Lord Jesus Christ and covenant to repent and turn to Him. The first Sunday of each month is typically designated as a fast Sunday, and congregants generally will go without food for a 24-hour period by their own choice and donate the funds not spent on those meals to the poor. Our spiritual journey compels us toward constant growth and searching for truth; and fasting, prayer, and sacrifice are considered necessary components of such development. So in a way, a formalized observance of Lent would be a little redundant for our faith community, because if we’re truly engaged in our religion we are always “observing Lent,” as it were.
For me personally, I like to recognize the Lenten season because it helps prepare me for Easter. So often it seems like the Easter season comes and goes without much fanfare. This is distressing to me, because I feel it is perhaps the most important holiday we celebrate. I may be biased, since it is my favorite holiday, but I don’t think I’m off base for saying that. If we as Christians truly believe as we say we do, if the sacrifice of our Lord and Savior is the most meaningful and singular event ever to transpire on this planet, then it would seem that we should approach Easter with at least the same amount of anticipation and reverence as we do Christmas.
I love these words of Christian writer Ann Voskamp, “Lent. It’s the preparing the heart for Easter. Like going with Jesus into the wilderness for forty days, that we might come face to ugly face with our enemy. Our sacrificing that we might become more like Christ in His sacrifice… Lent isn’t about forfeiting as much as it’s about formation. We renounce to be reborn; we let go to become ‘little Christs’. It’s about this: We break away to become.”
This is exactly how I feel about Lent. It is similar to how Advent helps me to celebrate Christmas with the right frame of mind.
Just as Christ spent 40 days in the wilderness fasting and preparing for His ministry, I have the opportunity to spend 40 days in deepened meditation and contemplation, giving up some things that have a tendency to separate me from the Spirit and adding elements that allow me to more fully come unto my Savior.
And that is definitely something my faith tradition embraces.