Saturday, January 12th, 2008 12:40:30

After Mardi Gras, a time for rest, reflection and humbling

Lent began last week on February 6. It ends March 23 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 introspection and contemplation.

The three days preceding Lent are feast days, days of celebration prior to the quiet, reflective time of Lent. 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 begins to be oppressive and transitions us into the next season. This year, the first day of spring is March 20, just a few days before the celebration of Easter.

While some people say politics and religion should never be mixed, this year’s calendar has made that inevitable: Mardi Gras, the last day of celebration before Lent, fell on the same day as Super Tuesday when 24 states and American Samoa held presidential primaries or caucuses.

Many of the candidates’ primary night events reflected an atmosphere of celebration: McCain solidifying his frontrunner status, Huckabee making major gains, Clinton and Obama both claiming that the results proved that they were on the right track to the White House. However, as with Mardi Gras, the candidates’ celebrations lasted only a night. Once Super Tuesday was over, the campaigns began to focus on solidifying their supporters and moving forward.

With Romney pulling out of the Republican race, McCain has the task of coalescing the Republican Party in anticipation of the general election in November. Clinton and Obama will continue courting voters with their respective rally cries: “Ready on day one!” or “Yes we can change!”

The final stage of primary season is a bit like Lent, a time for each political party to focus internally on its core principles in anticipation of the inevitable arrival of spring and, soon after, 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.

Once primaries are over, it is time to strengthen the party internally 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, among pundits who proved to be consistently incorrect in their predictions regarding who was going to win which primary or caucus, and among candidates who made grandiose predictions about winning that did not come true. “.. No one — from Rush to Schwarzenegger to Ted Kennedy to Oprah — has enough power to dictate an election,” commentator Glenn Beck wrote recently. “Nor should they. The founding fathers thought that might be a bad idea — remember, they had already gotten their fill of the whole monarchy thing.”

Beck understands his important role in the political process, providing people with issues for them 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 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 participate fully.