My view of Lent has changed as I grew up. As a kid it was about giving up things –candy, sweets, caffeine –whatever my addiction was at the time. Later, it was less about giving things up and more about what new things I could do to better myself during Lent (and hopefully after) –exercise, volunteering, smiling more.
I've realized recently (meaning while writing this blog post) that I have also changed the way I view the vows during my discernment of religious life. In the very beginning, they were about giving things up: poverty meant I couldn't own anything, obedience meant I couldn't decide anything, and celibacy meant I would never get married (remember, I did say this was my thinking at the very beginning).
Of course, a large part of religious formation is examining the vows from all different perspectives and applications. We've had/will have a semester-long course, panel discussions, and workshops on the subject. Before coming to St. Louis, and definitely since being here, I've come to see the vows as less about giving things up and more about taking on an entirely new way of living – a prophetic life with less fetters and more openness to God's call, God's will, and God's people.
Lately, I've been re-examining the vows in the light of solidarity with diverse groups of people. Poverty obviously helps put us in solidarity with the poor. Ron Rolheiser talks about how the vow of chastity puts us in solidarity with the lonely. The vow of obedience puts us in solidarity with the powerless. It's a new and interesting way of thinking about them and I'm enjoying the reflection.
So, to complete the circle, let's go back to Lent. This year, I'd like my Lenten observance to not just be about giving up, or even about taking on. I want to try putting this newest reflection into practice. How can I use the next 40-some-odd days to become in solidarity with a group of people I've previously overlooked, ignored, or been ignorant of? I'm still figuring it out, but at least it's given me plenty of food for thought.
So, what are you doing for Lent?