Borrowing Lent: thoughts on the slow approach of Spring

I’ve been thinking about Lent this week, which is a little strange as I left the Catholic Church more than forty-five years ago. I’ve lived most of my life outside the rhythm of its rituals. You’d think Lent would mean no more to me than Ramadan does except it turns out that that’s not true. How we were raised shapes how we see the world. It creates habits of thought, like muscle memories, that never leave us.

So I’m borrowing Lent to help me think about this year.

As a child, Lent meant choosing things to give up until Easter arrived. As a teenager, I began to understand that it was a sort of extended examination of conscience with an emphasis on repentance.

David Harmer’s poem ‘A Prayer For Lent’ sums it up for me:

For all that I have said
and should not have said,

For all that I have done
and should not have done,

For all that I have thought
and should not have thought,

I am sorry.

It’s an elegant prayer and potentially powerful as a means of recognising guilt and dissipating it.

The problem I had with this version of Lent was that I knew that the same prayer would need to be said every year because every year I would say, think and do what I should not. Saying I was sorry changed nothing.

The thing I liked about Lent was that it was a mental and spiritual preparation for Easter and the return of God’s grace into the world.

I’m an atheist so I don’t want to borrow Lent to prepare for Easter. I want to borrow it to prepare for the Spring Equinox, the real start of the year.

This isn’t the leap it might appear to be. The Church had a habit of setting its feast days on top of the pagan feast days that they encountered. It seems to me that Easter was positioned to replace the celebration of the Spring Equinox. My etymological dictionary told me that the word Lent comes from “Old English lencten “springtime, spring,” the season, also “the fast of Lent,” from West Germanic *langitinaz “long-days,” or “lengthening of the day”.

I like the idea of the lengthening days as a promise of the slow coming of Spring.

Winter hasn’t released us yet but its grip is weakening as each night shortens and our bodies start to believe in the possibility of light and warmth.

I’d like to use those lengthening days as an atheist’s Lent where I think not about all the things I’ve done wrong but about all the things I need to spend my energy on to get the most out of life when Spring arrives.

So, here’s my atheist version of Harmer’s prayer:

For all that I need to say 
and have not yet said,

For all that I need to do
and have not yet done,

Fo all that I need to imagine
bur have not yet imagined,

I am hopeful.

3 thoughts on “Borrowing Lent: thoughts on the slow approach of Spring

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