Assuming that you are reading this on Ash Wednesday, when it was designated for publication, it is the beginning on the Lenten Season on the liturgical calendar.
That’s church talk for it’s the first day of Lent.
Now I realize that not everyone speaks “church,” and that that some Protestant denominations shy away from the observation of such things as Lent because they are afraid someone will confuse them with being Catholic, with a big “C”. You know — it’s like Baptists don’t have sex standing up because someone might walk in on them and think they are dancing. To each his own.
If you are not familiar with Lent, it is a 40-day period — excluding Sundays — leading up to Easter. It represents the 40 days Jesus spent wandering in the wilderness, preparing himself to be tempted by Satan. Raise your hand if you learned something already! The word itself comes from the old Anglo-Saxon word — no offense intended for using an Anglo-Saxon word — “lencten,” which means “spring.”
The projected temperature in my part of the North Georgia Piedmont this morning was to have been 24, but the word means spring, nonetheless.
Now, in the church, Lent is supposed to be a time for self-examination and reflection. I don’t know where you go to church, but for myself and my fellow United Methodists the season for self-examination and reflections couldn’t have come at a better time. Can I get a witness?
Some people choose an item or an activity to do without during the Lenten season, the idea being that this sacrifice gives rise to examining the self-indulgent side of one’s nature. That’s why if you are not a church person — or if you are Baptist — you might be hearing some of your friends discussing what they are going to “give up for Lent.”
My lovely wife, Lisa, for example, has chosen to give up sex for 37 years running, which is how long we have been married. Such a holy child! And she was raised Baptist, so we don’t dance either.
My first exposure to Lent was as a small child in the Julia A. Porter Methodist Church in Porterdale, where I was raised. On the Sunday before Easter our Sunday school teachers would give us kids a little cardboard folder with 40 little slots cut out, appropriately called a Lenten folder. Our slots were dime-sized. I guess in richer churches they might have had slots that would accommodate quarters, but I couldn’t say for sure.
The idea was that, instead of stopping at Standard Pharmacy after school every day and getting an ice cream cone or a cherry Coke or a lemon sour, we would take our dime and put it in the slot in our Lenten folder and then on Easter Sunday we would have four whole dollars saved up to splurge on jelly beans and marshmallow eggs and chocolate bunnies!
No, not really. On Easter morning we would all march down the aisle and place our folders on the altar. I never knew exactly what the money was used for, but I assumed it went for a good cause.
Honesty compels me to admit that, as a child, I wasn’t a strong enough Christian to skip the drug store every single day during Lent, but I was a strong enough Christian to feel guilty when I didn’t — which means I haven’t really changed a whole heck of a lot, theologically, over the past six or seven decades.
Another bit of church history. For almost 2,000 years there was a prohibition among Roman Catholics against eating red meat on Friday. That’s why, according to my daddy, they served fish sticks in the school cafeteria on Fridays. Then in 1966 Vatican II made that a personal choice, effectively lifting the ban. Some say it was just a coincidence that the pronouncement was made the same week legendary Alabama football coach Bear Bryant bought a large interest in Zeigler Meats. I have no idea.
But I do know that during Lent most Roman Catholics do abstain from red meat and eat fish on Fridays, and I appreciate that fact because St. Pius X Catholic Church in Conyers will host a fish fry every Friday night from now to Good Friday, and they serve really good fish and slaw and all the trimmings for not much money and they welcome everyone, whether you observe Lent or not.
Which leads me to deciding what I am going to give up for Lent this year. At my age and in my current health condition, there ain’t much that I would miss. But after much deliberation and soul searching I have decided that between now and Easter I will go back to the days of my youth and will deny myself the pleasure of Coca-Cola and ice cream — and, trust me, I normally have a couple of servings of each, every single day.
And in the spirit of the season, when I find myself craving either, I will turn to inner reflection, just as Christ did in the wilderness while preparing to face the devil.
But don’t y’all give up Co-colas. Sir Henley’s college fund is tied up in Coke stock, and the University of Georgia isn’t getting any cheaper each year.
Enjoy the season, everybody, and I’ll look for you at St. Pius some Friday night.
Darrell Huckaby is an author in Rockdale County. Email him at email@example.com.