If yesterday was Shrove Tuesday, that means today is Ash Wednesday, the start of the Christian season of Lent. What is Lent? The simplest answer is that it is the forty days between today and Easter (excluding Sundays – otherwise you’d have 46 days). Of course, that doesn’t tell you much about the how and why, and those answers can get a lot more complicated.
For example, there is a numerological significance to the number 40, which turns up too frequently in the Bible to be an accident – for example, 40 days of raging flood during the time of Noah, 40 years that the Hebrews wandered in the desert between Egypt and the Promised Land and 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness between his baptism and public ministry. Sometimes that veers too far into trying to impute a magical significance to a period of 40 measures (* side note… that gives me a song writing idea…) but I would be willing to go as far as accepting it has a resonance.
There is also a practical historical reason. In Europe, where a lot of Christian traditions were developed after the fall of the Roman Empire, and right up to the beginning of the present ‘Post Modern’ period, when the self-identified ‘West’ has become as much of a global mission field as a global mission sender, the period from late winter to early spring is typically a hungry gap. With modern food supply methods, we are insulated from that but there is an argument that turning the fact of reaching the point of using up the last of your fat and enduring semi-starvation into a form of celebration was a canny (or inevitable) move.
I heard on the radio this evening that the Pope was urging catholics to “… disconnect from cell phones and connect to the Gospel” (source: vaticannews.va). My plan for this year has been to take up early mornings – not snoozing in bed for so long but to get up with the first alarm and use the extra hour (or two!) for quiet reflection and contemplation.
I have to admit that didn’t go so well this morning – I’ve got a bit of a cold this week – but before I head to bed tonight, I’ll try and get myself set up to make it easier tomorrow.