We live in an age of over-indulgence, complacency and gluttony. Our society is infected with consumerism and accumulation, and we have long since lost sight of our basic needs. The boundary between what is necessary and what is desirable has become so blurred that the two words are almost synonymous. Our lives have formed around the social constructs which have been placed before us; the power of social media creates the illusion of the perfect lives we should be living, yet nobody seems to be living them. The result of this is that we are constantly seeking approval from others, trying to fit in, clinging like moss around the base of a tree to societal norms. Mass production is at an unfathomable rate and the ease of getting something we want is almost laughable; indeed, a mere couple of taps on your phone can purchase practically anything. Sadly, this is the alarming reality of the state of our culture in present day society. If you told anybody about that, you couldn’t really blame them for wanting to spent a day away from it. Or forty.
Perhaps the Lenten period has become less valued over the years. Were we to go back a hundred years, more people would undoubtedly be aware of its meaning and values, and it may still be something more than just an excuse to feast on stacks of pancakes or temporarily give up chocolate, only to count down the days until you can eat it again. Of course, one has to accept that this “Chinese whispers” phenomenon is a natural part of human social life; things never stay the same, and the real reason why events such as Lent are celebrated may eventually become irreversibly distant.
As you are probably aware, Jesus is said to have spent forty days and nights in the desert, fasting, meditating and enduring various challenges and temptations from the Devil. Now this is not a prelude to Christian dogma, a call to repent for one’s sins or a chance for me to create a new column entitled “Sermon in The Saint.” In a sense, it does not matter whether you are a certified Christian or an ardent atheist, one can still appreciate what is meant behind the story we learn about in Matthew 4:2.
Couldn’t we all just use a little time to step back and reflect on our lives, the state of the world and our places in it? Wouldn’t it be a novel idea if we took a few moments to think before we spoke or tried to reason before we acted?
I’m not trying to say that we should all self-certify from tutorials to meditate or quit jobs just to finally get some pondering time (and for the record, I am in no way advocating a forty day fast). However, this is not to say that we cannot accept the significance of what it is all about.
What can be taken from the story is a message of willpower, mindfulness, reflection and self-restraint. Of course, actually achieving all of these things is no mean feat – it is made clear that even Jesus, the manifestation of God on earth, was tempted by a great many things – and it is part of human nature that we fall victim to temptation, but the importance is that we keep trying to make ourselves stronger in the process. Arguably we live in a time where this has never been more difficult, not least because of the immense pressures that are constantly placed on us, including the ideology that the more money and objects one has, the happier they will be. But, if anything, this only makes the message of Lent more relevant.
This time in the calendar is always a curious one. Some see it as a chance to have another go at the new year’s resolutions they broke on the day after New Year’s, some don’t eat during daylight hours, others don’t do anything but eat during daylight hours. But just giving something up for the sake of it is not actually making a difference the long run.
Instead of refraining from the Dairy Milk and crisps, maybe use this time to exercise patience, kindness and reflection. Because it’s one thing turning around on 13 April and saying you haven’t had a doughnut in forty days, but if you could come out and say you’re a stronger person at the end of it, that’s something to really be proud of.