The Christian season of Lent, as preparation for Easter, calls us to acts of penance, charity, and prayer. In a sense, it is all about baptism. We die to our former way of life, and are reborn as someone better. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, a day of fasting and abstinence. We are marked with ashes, and are reminded that we are dust, and to dust we will return.
In many places, Lent is preceded by a Carnival period–from the Latin Carnelevare–farewell to meat (literally, removal of meat). The final farewell is Mardi Gras–French for Fat Tuesday. Every person in the world knew that September 11, 2001 was a Tuesday, but only a scant few knew that it would be a secular Fat Tuesday, as well.
For Americans it was the end of a seemingly unending carnival of business as usual, and a complacency that could only have developed during decades of domestic peace and outstanding prosperity. The Ash Wednesday September 12th that followed was heartbreakingly literal, replete with the airborne burnt remains of the World Trade Center, and thousands of its occupants, falling from the sky.
Despite the silent and not so silent raging of the atheist elite in the government and media, amongst the survivors there were countless acts of penance, charity, and prayer. Issues of church and state separation, bogus in the best of times, quickly disappeared. How could they not, when a Holy War is declared against your country?
Yet, the very iconic basis of Islam, that directed the perpetrators to choose targets rich in symbolism, rather than devise much easier plots that would have caused far greater death and destruction, provided a ray of hope even on that terrible morning after.
And just what have we given up during this civil Lent, starting as it did near the opposite equinox of Christian Lent? To be sure, we have given up much of our complacency and smugness. As we look on our world a bit differently now, we are search of things stable and things real. It is no coincidence that large businesses, built on houses of cards, and trading at absurd p/e ratios, are being exposed to the light, and are failing. It is no coincidence either that the Church itself is performing a long overdue housecleaning. Quality trumps quantity–finally!
We have also given up some freedom and convenience, as security has increased everywhere, especially at airports. The reins have been pulled back on our mobility, to the point of diminishing returns. Perhaps, those in charge will wise up, but don’t hold your breath. These days, if you are flying, you must REALLY need to. Gone are the days of the quick trip, and pleasure travel.
Much of what we have given up defines our extrovert nature. However, there is something to be said for turning inward. For buildings fall, and great businesses go broke. Health and fortune can decline. Great leaders and institutions can have clay feet. In the end we have only those close to us and God.
Yet even now, says the LORD,
return to me with your whole heart,
with fasting, and weeping, and mourning;
Rend your hearts, not your garments,
and return to the LORD, your God.
For gracious and merciful is he,
slow to anger, rich in kindness,
and relenting in punishment.
Perhaps he will again relent
and leave behind him a blessing,
Offerings and libations
for the LORD, your God. (Joel 2:12-14)