On Wednesday, we begin the Lenten season.
Lent is a solemn religious observance in the Christian calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends approximately six weeks later on Holy or Maundy Thursday, shortly before Easter Sunday.
The Lenten season is one of preparation before Easter through prayer, penance, fasting, abstinence, repentance and denial of ego.
Invariably, Bahamians and Christians the world over often ask: “What are you giving up for Lent?”
The answer invariably is a response that acknowledges one’s determination to refrain from those habits and activities that normally represent a sacrifice by their denial, rejection or abstinence.
This week, we would like to consider this — what is the real meaning of Lent, and how can we approach this season differently this year than we have in the past?
Lent is traditionally described as lasting for 40 days, in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert before beginning his public ministry, during which he endured temptations by Satan.
For many Christians, Lent is a time that is committed to fasting, as well as giving up or sacrificing certain luxuries that have become the norms of everyday life.
Each year, it is observed to replicate the account of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ’s sojourn into the desert for 40 days before his ministry, trial, crucifixion and resurrection.
During Lent, Christians often choose to give up specific pleasures, such as sweets, alcohol, social media or other activities and habits that distract one from spiritual matters.
Also, during Lent, Christians embrace this period to foster simplicity and self-control. Hence many use their cravings or desires for these items as a reminder to pray and to refocus on spiritual matters.
Many Roman Catholic and some Protestant churches remove flowers from their altars, while crucifixes, religious statues and other elaborate religious symbols are often veiled in violet fabrics in solemn observance of the event. Throughout Christendom, some adherents mark the season with the traditional abstention from the consumption of meat.
All these practices and conventions have a focus on abstinence. However, we suggest an alternative course this Lenten season.
A different approach
This year, instead of focusing primarily on things from which we will refrain or abstain, let us instead consider things that we can do to become more engaged with each other.
This year, why not shift the focus away from the things that are directly connected with our abstinence, and instead focus primarily on activities that concentrate on proactively involving others in our Lenten sojourn?
This decision would compel us to be more outward-looking instead of inwardly fixated on activities that primarily affect us individually.
Instead of electing to refrain from alcohol, smoking, movies, sweets — all self-directed prohibitions and abstinence — we should consider whether it would not require a greater Lenten sacrifice to turn our attention deliberately to others.
Let us consider a few examples.
The 21st Century rat race
The 21st Century rat race seems to be all-consuming.
We are increasingly inundated with and consumed by external stimuli: the never-ending barrage of facts, data and events that are propelled at us at breakneck speed and accelerated velocity, sometimes to the point of making us simply desire a momentary respite from their incessant onslaught.
How often in our highly technologically advanced existence, with all the attendant benefits and challenges, do we feel that we would like to stop the world to let us just get off?
This Lenten season, we should consider slowing down the frenetic pace of our lives. We need to just take time for more personal reflection, meditating on the meaning and course of our lives so that we can simplify our existence in order to foster greater inner personal peace.
Reaching out to others
Many of us have become distant and disconnected from our loved ones and friends for reasons that appear to be justifiable.
This reality is often tied to the stressful preoccupation of coping with the frenetic pace of our daily lives.
The hours in the day have not diminished with time, but we never seem to have enough time to achieve the things we need to accomplish.
Many of us struggle daily with the challenges of trying to get the economic ends to meet.
Regardless of what the economic data depicts, we are all faced with the challenges of a higher cost of living, which significantly results from the level of taxes that are imposed by the political directorate.
Whether it is the increase in value-added taxes or the immoral charge for plastic bags at the food stores or the increase in utility costs, the fact is that Bahamians have less disposable income than they did only a year ago.
I often wonder how people with limited means can cope with providing for their basic needs of food, clothing and shelter. The cost of education and healthcare also severely eats away at personal disposable income.
This Lenten season, we should pause long enough to consider our consumption habits and honestly assess how we can simplify our lives regarding those habits, critically concentrating on discerning the decisive difference between our needs and our wants. This exercise could pay enormous dividends in reducing the financial stresses that we endure.
During this season, instead of chasing that next purchase, we should consider allocating our shopping time to reaching out to others whom we have not seen or spoken to for months, if not years.
We should renew our old acquaintances and spend time with family and friends, reconnecting with them in a meaningful way that will be mutually enriching.
A return to love and caring
As a community, we have ceased to demonstrate that we care for each other.
In some ways, we seem not to like each other as we used to.
This is manifested in the way we relate to others — from road rage to the way that we resolve our conflicts to how we interact with each other on seemingly trivial matters. We anger too quickly on truly insignificant issues.
How often do we interact with our colleagues in the workplace, in our schools and even in our churches in an undignified and unthoughtful manner? Too frequently, we demonstrate a dismissive, disrespectful and disdainful demeanor to others.
This Lenten season, we should be more respectful and thoughtfully responsive to the needs of those with whom we interact.
We should make an extra effort to recognize that we are all God’s children, deserving of care, dignity and love.
We should appreciate that a kind word or deed will significantly enhance a return to loving and caring for our fellow countrymen.
We have all encountered instances in our lives where we have offended and have been offended by the careless words and deeds that we have exchanged with others.
This Lenten season, let us resolve to seek out those persons we have offended.
Let us take proactive steps to admit our mistakes and make a personal commitment to apologize for our offensive actions or words.
Let us seek forgiveness for those offensive actions and words and do everything in our power to reconcile our differences. This course of action will go a long way in mending fences and creating the peace of mind to which we alluded earlier in this column.
It is never too late to do the right thing.
The impending Lenten season is a tremendous opportunity to reset our personal course, alter our errant ways and propel us on a course that, over the next 40 days, will greatly assist us to emerge from our “desert” experience newly invigorated, reenergized and prepared to truly enjoy the most important day on the Christian calendar.
If we welcome the opportunities to reflect and act upon these things this Lenten season, we would be more prepared to entirely embrace the splendor and glory of a happy Easter.
• Philip C. Galanis is the managing partner of HLB Galanis and Co., Chartered Accountants, Forensic & Litigation Support Services. He served 15 years in Parliament. Please send your comments to email@example.com.