Embracing Lent: Preparing to Enter the Desert
Lent is here, and while our post-Christian culture has laregly forgotten the power of self-discipline, deep introspection and the facing of inner demons – whether religious or not – Lent offers us the opportunity to face fears, grow character and refresh the soul.
Whatever your inner demons; be it addictions, womanizing, anger, complaining, complacency, or past trauma, Lent is an opportunity to build a picture of a healthier, cleaner you.
Such periods allow us to live the vision of the men we want to be and embrace deep life lessons that define the level of peace we experience in the long-term.
This piece is going to lay out the power of lent, as well as explore its symbolism with regard to the meaning of the desert, the power of 40-days, and how modern men can use this time to take stock, refresh our souls and craft a future vision of who we are.
Entering the Desert – The Deep Unconscious
The desert has long-held deep symbolic power in the collective human imagination, which is why it’s no coincidence it’s at the heart of Lent.
The desert is the vast unknown, the desolate land where your dark imagination is left to manifest all manner of realities, and where salvation (and the delusion of) are on the horizon.
We know from mythologist Joseph Campbell’s work that the desert is one of the core places a myhtological hero must face before transcending onto greater things.
Other arenas that provide a similar function include the ocean, forests and tundras, each providing the symbol of the individual and collective unconscious, that which we usually ignore, yet drives our desires and motivations.
At the root of Lent is Jesus’ journey into the desert for 40-days where he experienced the temptation of satan.
While satan threw all manner of worldly temptation at Jesus, he resisted, and it was this resistence that – pay attention to this – preceded Jesus’ ministry.
Henceforth, we must remember the moral of the story here, it is once we’ve faced and conquered our demons that we are ready to help others.
The Pedigree of 40-Days
The 40-day time period has a relevance in many religious and spiritual traditions, most often being the time period for transformation, healing and renewal.
For example, in the Hebrew Bible rain fell for “forty days and forty nights” during the Flood in Genesis, while Noah waited for forty days after the tops of mountains were seen after the flood.
Spies were sent by Moses to explore the land of Canaan (promised to the children of Israel) for “forty days”, while Goliath challenged the Israelites twice a day for forty days before David defeated him.
Within the Hindu system, popular fasting period ‘Mandala Kalam’ consists of 40 days, while the devotees of Swami Ayyappa, the name of a Hindu god very popular in Kerala, India strictly observed forty days fasting and visit with their holy submittance or offerings on 41st day.
Within Sikhism, the fifth and the final of the daily Sikh prayers have 40 paragraphs and the 40th paragraph is often read when concluding any Sikh ceremony.
Also, the Chali Mukte (40 liberated ones) refer to the 40 soldiers in the army of Guru Gobind Singh. These 40 disciples were the most favorite and beloved disciples of the Guru Nanak.
So as we sit at the root of 40-days in the desert, we see that this forty days is a time for transformation, healing, growth and training to grow in wisdom.
Much of our modern life today focuses on the acquisition on knowledge, and while that can help you complete a crossword or make an atom bomb, knowledge and widsom are very different things.
Recent research shows that an over-abundence of knowledge is actually inimical to our decision-making process, creating endless potential outcomes that we cannot fathom and calculate, breeding fear of our potential future.
Wisdom is different becuase its fruits do not stem from intellectual inquiry, but spiritual experince.
We foster spiritual experience when we go through hard times and are willing to learn, when we take a step back beyond the ego to a deeper sense of self, when we let go to life itself, and when we practoce self-discipline.
This is what Jesus himself referred to when he said: “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal.
“But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and where thieves do not break through nor steal. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”
So whatever ails you, whatever bugs you, whatever haunts you, take this opportunity to embrace Lent and let the truth, whether it be dark, light or hard to face, come forth and transform you.
Transcendence – The Summation of Lent
As Lent comes to its conclusion in Easter, we come to the fundamental cycle at the root of the universe – life and death.
Yet the end of Lent really is more a beginning than an end.
Just as Christ dies on the cross, a torture device, he transcends death, and thus his torture device becomes the very symbol of victory over death.
This isn’t merely symbolic, but directly relevent to your journey within Lent.
While you faced some form of suffering during your Lent period, the end-goal is the spiritual growth and realisation that denying worldly pleasures brings, and in that journey you’ve seen an old version of yourself decay to let a fresher, stronger, wiser version be born.
This cycle of birth and rebirth is what keeps our lives fresh and our souls developing, so far from Lent being a forgotten pasttime, Chrsitian or not, embrace it this year and challenge yourself to grow beyond the confines of your present consciousness.
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