Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Abstinence of Lent

Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the Christian holiday of Lent. The purpose of this forty day long event is to prepare, through prayer, penitence, almsgiving and self-denial, for the annual commemoration of the death and resurrection of Jesus. These practices, which are intended to encourage spiritual growth, could also be called, meditation, forgiveness, charity, and abstinence. Regardless of religious belief, these disciplines each have obvious merit for enriching one’s soul.

Lent is most commonly known as a time of asceticism. The adjective "ascetic" derives from the ancient Greek term askēsis (practice, training or exercise). Originally associated with any form of disciplined practice, the term ascetic has come to mean anyone who practices a renunciation of worldly pursuits to achieve higher intellectual and spiritual goals. Asceticism is closely related to the Christian concept of chastity and might be said to be the technical implementation of the abstract vows of renunciation. Those who practice ascetic lifestyles do not consider their practices virtuous in themselves but pursue such a lifestyle in order to encourage, or 'prepare the ground' for, mind-body transformation. Some forms of Christianity and the Indian religions teach that salvation and liberation involve a process of mind-body transformation effected by exercising restraint with respect to actions of body, speech, and mind. The founders and earliest practitioners of these religions lived extremely austere lifestyles refraining from sensual pleasures and the accumulation of material wealth. This is to be understood not as an eschewal of the enjoyment of life, but a recognition that spiritual and religious goals are impeded by such indulgence.

In the popular imagination, asceticism may be considered obsessive or even masochistic in nature However, the askēsis enjoined by religion functions in order to bring about greater freedom in various areas of one's life (such as freedom from compulsions and temptations) and greater peacefulness of mind (with a concomitant increase in clarity and power of thought). As with most holidays, Lent is a symbolic gesture. It reminds us of spiritual excercises practiced by the most revered spiritual leaders. Although I do not consider myself a religious person, I am a spiritual person. I embrace any discipline that encourages my own spiritual growth. Letting go of attachments is a personal goal I have set for myself. This does not mean I do not allow myself to enjoy possessions or indulging in pleasure of the flesh, including food and alcohol. It is only the attachment or addiction to these things that I resist. Observing Lent is a good way to address our addictions or attachments and prove to ourselves that our free will is more powerful than our urges. For this reason, I appreciate the value of this religious holiday.

1 comment:

  1. This is very positive, as is everything you write.