Joseph Evans argues that Lent has a meaning for believers and non-believers alike.
We’re now halfway through the season of Lent, which for Christians has a spiritual meaning, for non-believers at best a dietary meaning, and for Muslims is a poor semi-skimmed version of their own full-fat fasting in Ramadan.
But wherever you might stand within – or without – these three categories, Lent can still speak to us today in our post-Christian, post-modern and even our post-post internet-surfeited Western world.
For all its apparent softness – at least to those living west of Poland: for faithful eastern Orthodox Christians Lent is meatless and dairy-free and Polish Catholics are a tougher breed than their occidental counterparts – Lent’s Western flexibility still offers those who live it a bespoke form of self-denial and spiritual renewal which can help them distinguish what really matters in life and should be treasured, and what we can live without.
And so here are five very practical ways to lose weight in Lent, though not all of them necessarily involve shedding physical kilos:
1. Give up something you like:
this is the most obvious way and the one which most people latch on to. I’m always impressed how a complete atheist might give up alcohol, smoking, caffeine or chocolate for Lent without any sense of its spiritual value. Lent is seen by non-believers as a cultural practice with possible health advantages and can even be a test of one’s self-control. For us Christians it’s also a spiritual sharing in Jesus’ 40 days in the desert, but, heck, the atheist vision is at least a start! Giving up something shows what you’re attached to (the more you crave the self-forbidden item, the greater the attachment), which might even be an addiction. The renunciation might certainly result in weight loss but it might also help release you from a harmful dependence. You’ll be losing both kilos and chains.
2. Give up a grudge:
that resentment, that grievance against someone, that supposed “right” you have to harbour animosity towards them, your “justified” refusal to forgive. Giving this up will free you from the heaviest weight of all: that of bitterness of soul. You’ll go through life a lot lighter when you’ve laid down that burden, forgiven, forgotten and moved on.
3. Give up some of your possessions:
take a look at your wardrobe, your gadgets, or simply the films or music downloaded on your computer. Do you really need all that? Might there something you can share with people worse off than you? And please don’t just give away your junk. Throwing or giving things away frees your house from clutter, your heart from care, and your soul from greed. Losing the weight of so many objects allows your spiritual and psychological sight to focus on other realities which too many chattels blind us to.
4. Give up some of your dreams:
there are dreams and there are dreams. Some can be positive ambitions, real targets we can and even should aim at. Others are pointless day-dreaming, evasion and escapism. You need to distinguish. You’ll have to relinquish some to live your present reality to the full. It’s like the air bubbles which radiators need to lose for the real hot water to fill them.
5. Give up some of your time:
to pray, to examine yourself, to think about your priorities, for quality family time, for study or good reading and to help those in need. You won’t lose much. You’ll only lose the time you waste on pointless activities – gaming, gossiping, empty TV series, fruitless hours on social media and so on. You’ll gain a far richer and more meaningful existence which paradoxically helps you go through life lighter than ever before.
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