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Curious About Lent? Consider It a ‘Quarantine’

This is the time of year that some Catholics and Protestants commemorate Lent, a Christian tradition in which one gives up something so that they may instead focus more on Christ and the gift of salvation rather than the distraction they’re giving up.

As I wrote back in 2011, a lot of people miss the point of Lent.

Many choose to see it only as some sort of self-inflicted punishment. Those are people who probably should just bow out of participation, because that point of view is likely enough to guarantee that they won’t get anything out of it, anyway.

The interesting thing about Lent is that it runs roughly 40 days, not counting the Sabbaths, from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter. In Latin, the word for 40 was quadraginta. The word quarantine came from the Italian quaranta giorni, meaning “40 days.” During the time of the “black death,” ships coming into certain cities had to wait out a 40-day period of isolation to insure that none in the crew had the plague.

Biblically, periods of 40 days happen at key points of preparation of God’s work. The great flood took 40 days and nights. Moses communed with God on Mount Sinai for 40 days before receiving the Ten Commandments. The people of Israel wandered in the desert for 40 years before entering the Promised Land. Elijah’s journey to Mount Horeb where he received a vision from God took him 40 days. Inhabitants of Nineveh fasted and repented for 40 days following Jonah’s preaching.

And Jesus fasted for 40 days before beginning His ministry.

The close relationship of the words 40 and quarantine is important, because Lent could be considered a self-imposed quarantine from the things that distract us from God.

What kind of things distract you from God? The easy way to answer the question is to ask yourself what you’re spending the most time on when you could be setting aside time for prayer or Bible-reading or some other exercise of your faith. For a lot of us, it’s watching TV or spending time surfing online. For some, it’s too many after-hours spent at the office.

Food items wind up being a popular choice for Lent: people give up things they really enjoy, like chocolate, pizza, meat or soft drinks. I’ve heard of people even giving up coffee, which I consider a terrifying thought. But if you’re not taking the time that you might otherwise spend enjoying those items and filling it with time with God in one way or another, then you’re really not getting from Lent what you could.

If you’re a believer, ask yourself what things keep you from building and nurturing a relationship with God. Then spend this period looking for ways to avoid those things in favor of God. If you search yourself, you may find that you’d be better off reducing time spent in front of a screen (TV, computer, mobile, etc.) in favor of prayer. Or spending less time at the dinner table and more time helping others in some way. Or even cutting your spending on some “luxury” and using those funds to help someone else in need.

If you look at it from the standpoint of what you’re gaining rather than lamenting what you’re doing without, you’re certain to get more out of the experience.

Curious About Lent? Consider It a ‘Quarantine’
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11 comments
kimwhix
kimwhix

Nice !!! I'm with you, never give up coffee..never, ever. Interesting info about the 40 days and other significant events in the bible.

Cathryn (aka Strange)
Cathryn (aka Strange)

Huh.  I hadn't realized that non-Catholics observed Lent in this way.  I guess this is because the church I went to growing up didn't have this tradition and the only people I knew who did were Catholic.

I guess it's never late to learn something new!

danielalex_book
danielalex_book

This is interesting stuff Patrick.

I think we've forgotten many of the reason why we do things in our society.

Many religions fast or do something similar, but when you questions most people they think it's a silly outdated ritual that doesn't apply to our world.

They don't know the reason behind it, and still says it's silly.

Good job on making people aware on what Lent is really about.

patricksplace
patricksplace moderator

@Cathryn (aka Strange) I attend a non-denominational church that's most closely in line with Baptist, but has traditions of other denominations, including hints of Catholicism. Growing up as a Southern Baptist, we never really made a big deal about Ash Wednesday, certainly never had the mark of the cross in ash on our foreheads, and didn't really acknowledge Lent, either.

patricksplace
patricksplace moderator

@danielalex_book It's amazing how many things that applies to: people do something, going through the motions of it, and can't really tell you why they're doing it, other than to say, "Oh, that's just how it's always been done." 

If you don't know why you're doing something, you can't really appreciate the act itself.

Cathryn (aka Strange)
Cathryn (aka Strange)

@TedtheThird  Now there's something I'd be interesting in learning - once and for all:  How the dates of Easter (and thus, Lent) are decided!  It amazes me how much they vary from year to year!  I'll have to see if I can find a source that explains this in simple terms for me. 

Cathryn (aka Strange)
Cathryn (aka Strange)

@TedtheThird And it was easy to find.  Easter is always the first Sunday after (or on) the full moon after the vernal equinox.  Lent, of course, is calculated from the date of Easter.

patricksplace
patricksplace moderator

@Cathryn (aka Strange) @TedtheThird The answer is actually a bit more complicated than that, but the first Sunday after/on the first full moon following the vernal equinox is a good working definition for now. I believe I already have a follow-up topic for next Friday's faith column! :)