As we approach our third Lent since the onset of the pandemic, we will once again face the challenge of adapting our traditional pre-Easter observances in order to mitigate the risks that persist with large gatherings. While that may feel like a burden and an intrusion upon this sacred season, Lent and quarantine actually have more common than one might realize. We all know that Lent lasts forty days (not including Sundays). What is less well known is that during the late 14th century, when bubonic plague decimated about half of the European population, the word “quarantine” was the term applied to the 40-day period a ship was kept in isolation at port until it was relatively assured that there were no infectious cases of the disease on board. “Forty days” in Italian is “quaranta giorni,” from which we get the word English word quarantine. Quarantine and Lent also have in common the fact that both interrupt our normal pattern of living with an abstinence from certain comforts that we take for granted. The obvious difference is that the sacrifices due to COVID (including sacrifices demanded of our Lenten worship services) are dictated by necessity, whereas the practice of a Lenten fast is done voluntarily. But there are ways that we can intentionally lean into the social limitations necessitated by the pandemic through creative twists to the traditional practice of a Lenten fast. Instead of fasting from certain foods, we could fast from social media during Lent. Instead of expressing ourselves through posts on Facebook or Twitter, why not pursue self-expression through keeping a journal, writing poetry, painting or music? We can fast from being possessed by our possessions through decluttering our homes of stuff we don’t need and donating it to others. Or, we might fast from TV long enough each day to create space for reading something that can nourish our spirits. Rather than be dejected by another Lent in quarantine, think of imaginative ways to use this as an opportunity to go deeper into the true meaning of Lent.
I would love to hear whatever plans you come up with. Share your ideas with me at firstname.lastname@example.org so I can share them when the next Epistle comes out at the beginning of Lent in March!
Grace and Peace,