The Common Good

How Do We Take Lent Beyond Chocolate and Caffeine?

Lent. It's an odd word, not exactly one that shows up in the vernacular of our everyday.

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"Hey, how's it going?"
"Good, just coming up with a plan for Lent. How are you?"

Definitely not the material for chatter with co-workers or neighbors.

Those of us who are church-goers or who were raised in liturgical traditions are familiar with the concept, even though the word rarely shows up in our culture. Lent is a 40-day period that marks the journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday. After the chaos of Mardi Gras and Fat Tuesday, millions of faithful Catholics and Protestants begin a six-week time of reflection and renewal that is most typically marked by "giving up something." Things such as no meat on Fridays or fasting on other days.

In the past I've used this calendar space to try and shed a few pounds. I've tried to give up chocolate or sweets -- even caffeine. Maybe if I quite binging on chocolate for Jesus I'd stick to it?

But millions of us are also understandably clueless about the concept and why to bother with it. The word itself simply refers to the lengthening of days, of the coming of spring. Over the centuries we use words like "spring" to explain, well, spring. So Lent has been relegated to this sort of confusing church practice.

But if we demystify Lent a bit, even via this rapid fire blog post, I wonder if we all might consider taking a Lenten journey alongside one another? All religious tradition and confusion aside, Lent is simply an opportunity to reflect on that which weighs us down and hinders us. It is a time to shed negative ideas, habits, and desires that keep us from living as our best for God and one another. The idea is that if we empty ourselves, slow down a bit, and reflect honestly on the chaos of life, we will find there are places where we can improve -- maybe cutting the gossip, lowering the yelling at home, or yes, even cutting out the caffeine if it makes us a jumpy spastic mess.

This year, the high point of Lent (Good Friday) lands on the same day as Earth Day (April 22) -- a gorgeous coincidence. What if this year we all considered how a few smarter ecological moves could take us to six weeks of improving our lives and the lives of those around us? What if one little eco-idea a week transformed you into a smarter citizen of this planet come April? What if you challenged your family to grab reusable containers for lunch or to walk to school, to finally remember those tote bags? Or even deeper, what if you considered a spending freeze for a week, or two, or six? Considered how your resources can improve the lives of others?

portrait-tracey-bianchiTracey Bianchi blogs about finding a saner, greener life from the heart of the Chicago suburbs. She wrote Green Mama: The Guilt-Free Guide to Helping You and Your Kids Save the Planet (Zondervan 2009) and blogs at traceybianchi.com.

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