The word “Lent” comes from an Old English word (lencten; compare modern English lengthen) referring to when the days lengthen: Spring time.
Traditionally, Lent is a time of spiritual discipline modeled on the 40 days of fasting in the wilderness that helped Jesus prepare for his ministry. Every year the Church invites Christians to enter into an intentional time of Spiritual Discipline of their own: 40 days of prayer, reflection and fasting, lasting from Ash Wednesday to Holy Week to deepen their own spiritual lives and to expand their own ministry. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer, “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s Holy Word.” (BCP p. 265)
Fasts are always voluntary, never mandatory, because fasting is a spiritual discipline, not an obligation. Try it! You might be surprised by your experience. The traditional Lenten fast is to abstain from meat, wine, oils/fats, and sweets. Since this is a fast (an abstention) not a diet, the fast includes abstention from artificial sweeteners and fats just as much as the real thing.
Remember that the purpose of a fast is never about deprivation — but about spiritual growth. So it’s much more important to spend time in reading and meditating than it is to abstain from certain foods. I’d encourage you to choose a book from “Books to Stir the Heart” on the parish website. Also remember that the Lenten fast includes only Mondays through Saturdays — never Sundays. Sunday is never a fast day; always a feast day, since we celebrate the Resurrection every Sunday.
Finally, I invite you to attend our Lenten study program on Wednesday evenings, Feb. 20 through March 20. I’ve been asked to offer a short series on World Religions. We’ll look at Hinduism, Buddhism, Judaism, Islam, and Christianity. Obviously in such a short overview we won’t get too deep, but we’ll try to see something about the heart, the essence, of each of these religions, while touch on the key similarities and differences. I think you’ll find this both interesting and inspiring. You won’t have to do any homework, but I’ll list some recommended texts on the parish website for those who would like some further study.