Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Lent

I've often been a little interested in the idea of Lent. Give up something (traditionally meat) for 40 days in sympathy for Christ's suffering, celebrate its return at the festival of rebirth that follows. The mingling of Christian theology and European paganism into an enduring ritual that draws people into contemplation in February. But one of the reasons I've often been interested is that I can't get into it at all myself. Maybe it's a symptom of my modern anomie that I neither feel that I have something compelling to release in Lent, nor something to contemplate on. I don't feel particularly indulgent or grateful materially (this is probably something I should work on), and a lot of the things I might give away would only push me away from my friends and community. And I don't identify with the suffering of Christ. That can be broken down many ways. One is association: because I grew up in a society steeped in Christian ideas without any religious upbringing instinctively associate any Christian doctrine with exclusion and coercion. But even if I contemplate other leaders that have suffered for their beliefs and works, it's hard for me to feel kinship with them when I know I've tended to avoid pain by avoiding conflict in almost every area of my life.

So Jess has suggested that I give up anomie and focus on focus. Now I have, as we say in the business, two problems. Maybe three.

Maybe one day I'll be ready for something like Lent, but today probably isn't that day. I can think of one modern practice that is something of a mirror image of Lent: repeatedly trying new and unusual things, a month at a time. If the tradition of Lent keeps people's minds attuned to the past, this practice keeps people's minds attuned to the constant reinventions of modernity. People try the Dvorak keyboard layout or biking to work. They'll try wacky organization systems or keeping journals. Some might write a novel or record an album, although the motivation may be a little different. Ironically, one common choice is vegetarianism, and the RPM Challenge is in Februrary. Anyway, people take on these challenges publicly and socially, encouraging each other and sharing results.

I'm not sure that's quite what I need either, though. If anything, I need to find comfort and consolidate my strength, not take on another unfamiliar thing.

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