Lent began this week on Feb. 22. It ends April 8 with the celebration of Easter. In the Christian tradition, the Lenten period is a time of fasting and prayer, preparation and reflection in anticipation of Easter, which commemorates the death and resurrection of Jesus.
Lent is referred to as a 40-day period, even though the calendar count is 46 days. Sundays are excluded, as each represents a mini-Easter, or a break from the Lenten period. These symbolize the 40 days that Jesus fasted in the desert. During this time, Jesus was tempted by the devil three times and resisted each time.
Historically, Lent has been a time to provide instruction to new converts and young Christians as a way to strengthen their faith, as well as a period for believers to spend in reflection to strengthen their faith.
Traditionally, Lent is a time for people to give up a vice, or to participate in virtuous acts. People often give up sweets, bread, alcohol, meat or other items. Good works include helping others, giving money to those in need or time spent in prayer. Lent allows Christian believers to focus on God rather than the world. Prayer and fasting are a way to change the patterns of their everyday lives to allow time for reflection, introspection and contemplation.
The Tuesday before Lent is Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras (French for Fat Tuesday). This is the last day to feast before Lent begins, the last period of excess.
Lent, which is derived from the Old English word lencten, or spring, begins just as winter starts to be oppressive and transitions us into the next season. It's a time of somberness, seriousness before the joy of spring.
While the Lenten season transitions us into spring, the political primary season transitions the American electorate into the general election. While the primary process is the first hurdle in the race to the national election, it is the general election that ultimately determines who will become our country's next president.
The primary process allows the parties, and the candidates, to hone their message, to ensure it is on target, is clear and well articulated, before the inevitable onslaught of the general election.
Lent reminds each of us that we are to be humble. That, instead of focusing on ourselves, we should focus on God and on how we can serve others.
This humbling is in opposition to the state of hubris, exaggerated pride or self confidence, all too often prevalent in our society.
Hubris has been evident throughout this election cycle, especially among pundits who proved to be consistently incorrect in their predictions regarding who was going to win which primary or caucus. Pundits who often appear to believe their prognostications are more important than the issues and the voices and votes of the American people.
It would be more helpful to the process if instead of focusing on the tactics or horse race of the primary process, that those who have the ability to amplify a message would instead provide information on issues for the American people to focus on and work through. In the end, the American people will decide, through their action or inaction, who will lead our nation.
Perhaps the presidential candidates will be reminded of this call to humility this Lenten season, remembering that the campaign -- in the end -- is not about them, their campaign staffs or their advisors, but about the American people.
Let us also be humbled and reminded of our responsibility as citizens in our great nation. A democracy is only as effective as its citizens are active. Our job is to think through the issues, relying not on pundits' statements and campaign slogans, but on our understanding of each candidate's experience platform and policies.
This is hard work, not for the weak nor weary. But work that is worthwhile.
Let this period of Lent be one of introspection and reflection, allowing you to determine what is important to you, preparing you to take action to make it happen.
Rest, reflect and be humbled. Lent will soon be over. The activities of spring and the general election will soon be upon us. Make sure you are prepared to fully participate.