Baker Academic

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

What are You Giving Up for Lent? - Le Donne

This will be old hat for many of my readers, but every year around this time of year I am bombarded with conversations about Lent.  In a culture that is preoccupied with food, it is not uncommon to hear Christians use Lent to help them reinforce New Years resolutions and to achieve a Project Runway body.  Let's be clear: Lent has traditionally taken the shape of fasting, but I think we might have lost our focus.

In a letter to Pope Victor, Irenaeus wrote of the varying ways that Eastern and Western Christianities prepared for Easter:
The dispute is not only about the day, but also about the actual character of the fast. Some think that they ought to fast for one day, some for two, others for still more; some make their day last forty hours on end. Such variation in the observance did not originate in our own day, but very much earlier, in the time of our forefathers (via Eusebius, History of the Church, 5.24).

Famously, when this passage was translated from Greek to Latin, the punctuation was rendered in a way that  turned forty hours into forty days. (It might be worth noting that Lent is really 46 days, but that the Sundays are for celebrating Easter.)  Folks, the idea here is focus and celebration.  The fasting part shouldn't be belittled, but you're not going to lose much weight by fasting for forty hours.  Weight loss was never the point.  The point is that you will enjoy the celebration more if your desire for the feast is greater.  Now, I see no reason why forty days of Lent couldn't or shouldn't be used for this purpose.  I'm not suggesting that we return to a single day of fasting.  Lent isn't about physical deprivation or even physical discipline, it is about preparing for a celebration that brings our physical sensations into spiritual focus.

In the past, I've given up meat for Lent.  This is pretty traditional and I like tradition when it comes to these things.  Other people whom I respect give up nonfood items and use the lack of these daily habits to remind them of the sacred.  The rationale here is that the absence of something habitual will serve as a more ubiquitous memory marker.  

I'm thinking about giving up the letter "T" for Lent.



  1. I wrote something about fasting and the loss of Lenten language that might be helpful. Especially those of us on the blogosphere and surrounded by academia. Hope it's okay if I share?

  2. Alcohol.

    And something I find often missing in the Lenten fast is that Sundays, as resurrection celebrations, transcend the fasting period.

  3. Previously, my family and I gave up technology for about three hours in the evening. This time, we are going to do something different. We have a poem, or something akin to it, that focuses us on both giving up something and feasting on something. So, we are doing to do mini-devotionals for this season of Lent, where we focus on these things for a bit.

  4. Wha_'s mos_ shocking to me is _ha_ _he American corpora_e machine hasn'_ ye_ found a way to commercialize Len_.

    Yeah. This "_" _hing is _ough.

  5. I have looked for the word "lent" in the Bible but cannot seem to find it. Could you please help me locate this word?

    Thank you very much!


    1. I wouldn't imagine that you'd find this word in the protestant canon since it is a practice that represents the early patristic era.