It's Ash Wednesday this week, the beginning of Lent. I was tooling around the Net and ran across this description of Lent: "Mardi Gras is short-lived friends: For, tomorrow, we begin Lent, the 40-day bummer of a tradition that forces us (Catholics) to give up some prized possession or idea until Easter. Of course, since I am a horrible Catholic, I won't be giving up chocolate, macaroni and cheese ..."
One of the comments left on the site said "It's times like this that I thank God He didn't make me Catholic." Another one said "Lent is for #@%. Just live."
It got me to thinking that I was too hard on Yul Brynner. I always thought that Yul looked a bit silly as Rameses in The Ten Commandments. The guy would run around wearing his little camp skirt with no top, loaded with bling ... I mean how silly can you get?
It is possible, I suppose, that Rameses might have dressed that way because even back then dressing for success was important. It could be that when he put his skirt on, slipped into the little armbands, donned the pharaoh's headdress, he felt good. His clothes were well tailored and made from the finest linen; his bling was real bling. He would have stood out in any crowd, and then as now, being that well decked out gives you a psychological boost. You carry yourself a bit differently. Ask any man if he feels differently in a tuxedo, and the answer will almost always be yes.
Our "forty day bummer of a tradition" is like a tux -- if we put on Lenten activities correctly, they work on our psyche in a subtle fashion, and we begin to stand up a little straighter, feel a little more responsible. We begin to believe that we are capable of being a better person, more aware, more in control.
Admittedly, there are limits to the "Clothes make the man" adage. There comes a point at which another phrase comes to mind ... lipstick on a pig. This is why it is important to both understand why Lenten activities are necessary and desirable and to choose a Lenten activity that makes sense.
Lenten activities are supposed to jar us out of our normal routines and to remind us to contemplate our relationship with God -- kind of like tying a string around your finger to remind you to do something, or setting your phone to remind you of whose birthday it is. Of course if you have no relationship with God, giving something up to remind yourself to think about that might be pretty useless. In that case, it might be better to do something positive, like everyday writing a one or two sentence answer to the question, "In what ways today did I demonstrate that I was truly an #@%?" If you need help with the answer, ask the people you work with.
I'm not giving anything up for Lent, although I may tag along with anybody in the household who is trying to eat less. I'll do that because I simply can't fit into my camp skirt anymore. I am going to try an old Catholic Lenten practice and recite the Seven Penitential Psalms each day, something Pope Innocent III suggested we all do back in the 1200s. I'll use the Good News Bible's translation of the psalms since that is easier for me to understand.
It times like this that I thank God he made me Catholic. And as Rameses used to say, so let it be written, so let it be done.