Opinion: Finding Meaning

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Preparing for Lent

By Skip Hellewell

Back in the distant days of my youth, I lived for a time in the ancient Spanish Colonial city of Granada, Nicaragua. Granada, one of the oldest cities in the Americas, has since become a Central American destination, like Antigua, Guatemala. Granada sits on the shore of Lake Nicaragua, which back then required sleeping under mosquito netting. We lived in an old house with an ex-pat named Jack Head, the local ice supplier. This was before refrigerators became common there and he had built an ice-making plant to supply the town. Jack was a colorful guy but this story is about a still-remembered visitor to his home.

The visitor lived on one of many islands in Lake Nicaragua, had a long beard with hair to his shoulders, dressed simply, and wore handmade sandals before that became fashionable. He looked like someone out of the New Testament, but we were surprised to learn he was European, well-educated and multi-lingual, a philosopher living a life of contemplation. What I remember best is he had just finished a Biblical fast of forty days, drinking only the juice of six coconuts each day. He remains in my memory for his diligence in observing the forty days of Lent, which starts this coming Wednesday.

Many churches celebrate Lent as an observance of Jesus’ forty-day fast and temptation after baptism by John the Baptist. The practice of Lent dates back to the first centuries of Christianity. Lent traditionally follows Shrove Tuesday, a last fling with rich foods and, in some places, partying before the days of Lenten deprivation. Think of Mardi Gras (French for “Fat Tuesday”) in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio de Janeiro.

Lent is an invitation to become more like Christ. It’s a time of penance, expressed through increased prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. It’s common to observe Lent by giving up a guilty pleasure. Those indulgences that are done once or twice become habitual and then addictive. Perhaps it arises from our prosperity, but there seems to be a growing list of societal addictions. Besides tobacco, drugs and alcohol, there are dietary addictions (sweets, drinks, fast food, or just too many calories), behavioral addictions (gossip, social media, shopping, selfishness, negativity, laziness), and the list keeps growing. Lent thus offers a hidden benefit—a time to check our all-to-human drift into behavior that limits our potential for goodness, even godliness.

What to give up for Lent? I’ve been thinking about it. I could be better organized and use my remaining days better. During the busiest time of my life, I made a daily to-do list, ranked tasks by importance, and loved checking them off when done. I feel bad when a day isn’t productive, so getting back to that would be good. On the other hand, I’m impressed by a family friend who doesn’t eat sugar. Naturally, she has a lean, healthy appearance. Limiting my diet to natural sweeteners like raisins or honey might get rid of those extra pounds I’m carrying. The Beautiful Wife made cookies for the grandchildren on Valentine’s Day, and I had a few; temptations abound. So, I’m saying this publicly: For Lent, I’ll make better use of my time using a daily “To Do” list, and I’ll avoid refined sugar. Done. I feel better already.

As noted, Lent is a time to become more like Christ through penance, fasting, prayer, and almsgiving. The last week of Lent, known as Holy Week, starts with Palm Sunday and builds up to Good Friday, then Holy Saturday, followed by the celebration of Easter Sunday. But most of all, it’s a time to move closer to Christ. There’s meaning in that.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ’50s surfing trip. He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.” Email: [email protected].

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