Lent—What does it mean?

I was thinking about Lent this morning and I realized I didn’t know what it means. Oh, I know what the liturgical season is; it’s the word “Lent” that puzzled me. Surely we don’t have the most important period of the church year named after the past tense of the verb “to lend.” So I did what anyone would do—I checked out wikipedia.com.

I learned that originally Lent was referred to by the Latin term quadragesima, the “fortieth” day before Easter. It’s still called that in Romance, Slavic and Celtic languages: Spanish cuaresma, Portuguese quaresma, French carême, Italian quaresima, Croatian korizma, and Irish Carghas.

In the Middle Ages, as Latin was replaced by the vernacular, English speakers began using the word “lent” which comes from the Old English word for spring (lencten) as well as the Anglo-Saxon word for March, lenct.

Naturally this information made me think about the word “spring.” Along with the seasonal connotation, “spring” has an energetic, positive sense that “Lent,” with lingering mental ties to the idea of “having temporarily given away something” doesn’t.

So what would I do differently if I thought of this season as “Spring?”

For starters, I’d be more enthusiastic because I like spring. Longer days, flowers, warmer weather. What’s not to like? If I thought of this liturgical season the way I think of the annual season, my excitement that winter is over and summer is coming would translate into a greater anticipation that the winter of sin has been vanquished and the new spring of hope is within my reach.

Next, I’d see these days, not as a time to berate myself for all my faults, but as a period of getting ready for something wonderful—spiritual spring housecleaning, as it were. Rather than “giving up for Lent” (there’s that sense of “letting go of something on the condition it will eventually be returned” again), I’d be scrubbing the windows of my soul to let the bright light of the Easter Son shine in. I’d be looking forward to Easter rather than just trying to get through the 40 days without a failure in discipline.

Finally, if I thought of this time as “Spring,” I’d look for opportunities to get outside of myself. Just as I grab any chance to get outdoors once the weather improves, thinking of the season as “Spring” would encourage me to move beyond my closed ideas and breathe some fresh spiritual air. I’d be taking metaphorical walks and picking symbolic bouquets instead of brooding by my mental fireplace.

Although Shakespeare said, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet,” sometimes giving familiar things a new name bestoys insights we might not get any other way. So what would you do differently during the next 40 days if you thought of them as “Spring” instead of “Lent?”