Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Lent, Big Macs and Faith as Free Will

For the last six years, I’ve partaken in the rituals of Lent. For a few years, I gave up all meat—until I realized that a 40-day diet of pasta and cheese pizza is bad for the body. Since then, I’ve chosen other indulgences to forgo. Beer. Cookies. This year: all fast food.

But why? After all, the Bible makes no mention of Lent or the traditions surrounding this Christian holy season. The entire event was constructed by the Church, the 40 days chosen as a spiritual bond with the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness before beginning his missionary.

Like that period in Christ’s life, this is a time for reflection, for penance and, ultimately, for renewal. A renewal that comes in celebration of another moment in the life of Christ: the crucifixion and the resurrection. So, the faithful who choose to observe Lent are choosing to walk closer with Jesus, to prepare their spirits to embrace the resurrection.

That’s the point. But how does giving up Big Macs bring anyone closer to their God? Well, it’s all about the “why.” If you’re just giving up a pleasure out of tradition, I don’t believe there’s much point in the practice. But if you choose to abstain from a pleasure as an earnest test of your will, then a certain transcendence can be reached.

Our bodies are vessels of our souls. The link between the two is our mind. When we reject the cravings of the body, we’re placing mind over matter. The void left by the denial of the craving is filled by the spirit. In that very small yet meaningful way, we move closer to the Lord.

For those who are agnostic or atheist, such a description of the purpose of Lent’s rituals must seem odd or even a little unhinged. And yet, for me and many others, the struggle of Lent makes Easter more joyous and meaningful. Each year as I break my chosen fast, I reflect on the accomplishment and celebrate the gifts of God that allow me free will and offer me the hope that salvation is possible through the proper use of that free will.

I am no fundamentalist. I constantly question my own faith and I know my interpretations of Christianity are not supported by all or even most. But Lent is a period I deeply respect. So, this Ash Wednesday, I forgo fast food in an act of faithful will. Come Easter, I believe I’ll be better for the abstinence.

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