lent and me

Posted on February 28, 2009


Am I really all the things that are outside of me?
Would I complete myself without the things I like around?

these are the first two official lines of a song called “taste” from animal collective’s latest album, merriweather post pavilion. my overarching thought about this widely praised album is basically that it’s as musically brilliant as it is lyrically vague. then again, maybe I’m just too obtuse to cut through the fancy words and seemingly profound lines.

but these two lines jumped out at me, partly because of how straightforward they were (especially in light of lines like Only Ma’d pretend to like the clothes you showed to me / Something in my heart can tell me it’s a weakness), but also because of their resonance with my thoughts going into the Lenten season.

my history with Lent is both long and simple: for 24 years , I haven’t participated. I knew that it was related to Easter. on Ash Wednesday, my catholic friends would show up to school with ash marks on their foreheads, followed inevitably by a few weeks of complaining about how much they missed chocolate, soda, or whatever else they had decided to give up (this was also a great chance to be an ass and eat whatever they sacrificed in front of them. the looks of jealousy while I bit into a kit-kat bar are priceless). there were no deep discussions about the meaning behind their Lent sacrifices or how it related to their faith, and from the brief conversations I had with some of them, I really didn’t get/hear anything beyond Lent simply being a time to give something up until Easter – like a condensed new year’s resolution with an expiration date. add on top of that the fact that my church never really explored this season, and you can see how Lent passed before me like a confusing and vaguely purposeful 40-day parade of mostly dietary sacrifices.

but this year’s a bit different. as someone who became particularly cynical about traditions and rituals during the college years, I threw Lent into the “religious things for show” pile. but then I read the year of living biblically, written by a.j. jacobs. I perhaps took more from the book than the author imagined anyone would, but the book, at the very least, rekindled in me an acknowledgment of traditions and rituals as not being all bad.

all this brings me to Lent ’09. though I’d been thinking about it since, like, the beginning of february, I remained undecided til I heard six words on sunday at church that threw me for a loop.

jesus did indeed die for something.

to me, that was both truth and challenge. that something is me, but who (or what) exactly am I? and that question right there is what made those lines from “taste” so provocative.

am I the product of the things with which I surround myself? who do I become without those things? when all that’s stripped away, who (or what) is left? I suspect I’ll discover overdependence on some things, underdependence on others, wasted hours, exercises in vanity, subconscious good habits and some bad ones, and so on.

so that’s what I plan on finding out during Lent as I take a break from different things through the season. in the end, I hope to understand better what the “something” in “jesus did indeed die for something” is, and further, the magnitude of that act in light of “something” is.  this might not be the conventional reason for doing Lent, but I think Easter will serve as the perfect culmination of these discoveries anyway.