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I confess – I “do not deny but confess” – that I have been lax in posting new essays for this blog. One excuse is that I’ve been focusing more on my art. (For one thing, I’ve finally gotten to the point – after 66 years of this incarnation – that I actually feel like I know what I’m doing.) Be that as it may, it’s high time to finish another post, especially since Lent began a week or so ago, with Ash Wednesday.
So anyway, this whole idea of Lent as a kind of mini-Wandering in the Wilderness started back with Moses. And with his leading the Children of Israel during the original Exodus, as recited years later by Nehemiah, at 9:12-21. Now we don’t have an actual “pillar of cloud” by day, or a “pillar of fire in the night” to light our way. But we do have the example set by Jesus.
According to the canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke, Jesus Christ spent 40 days fasting in the desert, where he endured temptation by Satan. Lent originated as a mirroring of this, fasting 40 days as preparation for Easter.
So the “40 days of Lent” are supposed to commemorate the 40 days that Jesus spent “wandering in the wilderness.” (And being “tempted.”) In turn, that act by Jesus mirrored the 40 years that the Hebrews – led by Moses – also spent “wandering around.” But as it’s evolved, most people today equate Lent with “giving up something they love.” Which may miss the point entirely. (See e.g., Lenten disciplines: spiritual exercises or ego trip?)
For me it seems more appropriate to remember that “while the Promised Land is wonderful, we learn our greatest lessons on the journey along the way.” That’s from the “mini-Wandering in the Wilderness” link above, posted by Rabbi Geoffrey A. Mitelman back in 2011. His article is called “What We Can Learn from Wandering in the Wilderness,” and it contains some valid points for this Lenten season. Points like this:
Life can be hard, and the world can be scary. If we learn to accept that, and not expect the world to revolve around us, we can discover the myriad ways in which we can make a difference, and invest our energy in those tasks.
Another lesson: It can be “fun, natural and even important to explore uncharted territory [during Lent]. After all, we never learn or grow if we stay in the same place.” Which is why – two years ago – I chose a different course. See My Lenten meditation, from February 14, 2016:
I’ve always wondered just when, where and how Moses came to write the first five books of the Bible. (The Torah.) So I’ve decided that – aside from Bible-reading on a daily basis, which I already do anyway – I’ll spend this Lent “meditating” on this topic. More precisely, I plan to spend this Lent contemplating on how and when Moses wrote those first five books.
Which turned out to be pretty enlightening. For example, Moses probably knew the earth revolved around the sun, but couldn’t share that information with the primitive, illiterate tribes he led. (He would have been stoned to death for heresy. See On Moses getting stoned. And as an aside, the same thing almost happened to Jesus. But in Luke 4:21-30, Jesus wasn’t threatened by stoning, as Moses was. Instead, “the people” wanted to throw Him off a cliff, as shown at left.)
For another thing, four of the five books of the Torah were “pretty much autobiography.” (That is, Moses wrote about his life, and his role in leading the Hebrews out of slavery and into their Promised Land. And in doing so he referred to himself in the third person, a literary device called illeism. See also On Moses and “illeism.) But in writing Genesis, Moses had to go back to the origins of time itself. He had to go back to the Creation of the World itself. And in doing that, he almost certainly had to rely on oral tradition.
Then there’s the question whether “writing” had been invented by the time of Moses at all. All of which are fascinating questions, but certainly beyond the scope of this post. (Maybe later?)
So I’ll end the post with this BTW: There are actually 46 days of Lent; 46 days between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. That’s because Sundays don’t count in the calculation. Sundays in Lent are essentially “days off,” when you can still enjoy whatever it is you’ve “given up.” But somehow that fact got overlooked by the writers and/or producers of 40 Days and 40 Nights, the “2002 romantic comedy film.” That film portrayed the main character “during a period of abstinence from any sexual contact for the duration of Lent.” But as noted, the main character “could have taken Sundays off.” Which just goes to show that – sometimes at least:
It pays to read and study the Bible!
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The “Penitente” image is courtesy of Penance – Wikipedia, which adds this note:
The word penance derives from Old French and Latin paenitentia, both of which derive from the same root meaning repentance, the desire to be forgiven (in English see contrition). Penance and repentance, similar in their derivation and original sense, have come to symbolize conflicting views of the essence of repentance, arising from the controversy as to the respective merits of “faith” and “good works.” Word derivations occur in many languages.
Re: Phrase “reach a certain age.” The allusion is to “women of a certain age.” That phrase was “repopularized in a 1979 book by the psychotherapist Lillian B. Rubin, ‘Women of a Certain Age: The Midlife Search for Self,’ in which midlife spanned 35 to 54.” The 1995 New York Times article noted that – at the time it was published – Ms. Rubin was then in her early 70s. It then added:
[T]he phrase … “has a long history in French, where it refers to women of fortyish and thereabouts who are able to initiate boys and young men into the beauties of sexual encounters. The early use in English seems to be about spinsterhood, but the French meaning has nothing to do with marriage…” In French, the phrase has erotically or sexually charged overtones. [Naturally.] “It comes from a society where sexuality is freer,” Dr. Rubin notes, “and more understood as an important part of human life…” The phrase in French is femmes d’une certaine age. The term, however, can apply to either sex.
To which I add my own hearty Amen. (“So be it.”) And note that as I’ve said before, one of the pleasures of blogging is that you can learn so many interesting new things…
The “giving up” image is courtesy of Diary of a Sower (“Giving up – or adding something – to Lent”).
Re: Prior posts on Lent. See On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016.
Re: “Sundays off in Lent.” See How Are the 40 Days of Lent Calculated? – ThoughtCo, Fast during Lent – EWTN, Is There Really a “Sunday Exception” During Lent?
The lower image is courtesy of 40 Days and 40 Nights (2002) – IMDb.