A few Wednesdays ago, you may have observed students walking across campus with cross-like smudges upon their foreheads. Those smudges were ashes, which are given annually to Christians who observe Lent. This religious season begins on Ash Wednesday, which took place on March 5 this year, and the giving of ashes symbolizes human mortality and repentance to God.
Lent lasts for forty days and culminates on Easter Sunday, when Jesus Christ was resurrected. The interval between Ash Wednesday and Easter commemorates the life, suffering, death, and resurrection of Jesus. The Bible states that Jesus, the Son of God, endured such agony to absolve the sins of humankind. Therefore, many Christians fast, repent, or practice spiritual discipline during Lent to honor His sacrifice and test their personal faiths.
Some Christians choose to give up or add something specific to their lives during these forty days. This practice of change is traditional, particularly among Catholics. Others celebrate Lent by devoting more time to their faith on a daily basis, by way of prayer, music, or other forms of divine mindfulness. Lent is viewed as a time for renewal, in which Christians recommit themselves to Jesus’ teachings in light of the story of His death. This message resonates with many Haverford Christians, most of whom have deviated more than they would like from daily Christian practices due to the demands of school life.
“Lent is made especially difficult because it comes in the middle of one of the busiest parts of the year,” Robert Homan ‘14 said. “But that’s wrong; business just makes it more important that I try to carve out time for prayer and reflection.”
For Father Jaehwa Lee, Lent is simply about growing closer to the heart of Jesus. Lee leads mass for the student-run Catholic organization on campus, the Haverford Newman Society.
“This period is about learning what real love is,” Lee said. “[During Lent], I hope to spend more time with my Lord who governs and enriches my life in a loving gaze.”
Homan, an active student member of the Newman Society, expressed similar thoughts regarding the meaning of Lent.
“It is a time for reassessing my relationship with God and my faith and thus my relationships with other people in my life,” he said. “Reflection is maybe the best word for it, perhaps contemplative prayer.”
Miriam Abaya ‘14 of the nondenominational Haverford Christian Fellowship, is not giving up or adding anything specific to her life during this season. Rather, she is striving to become more cognizant of her faith on a daily basis, with the hope that this will evolve into a consistent practice.
“I’m not particularly giving anything up because I don’t want the change that happens during this time period to be temporary,” explained Abaya. “I want to do something that allows me to truly examine myself in light of what I believe, and make real changes past Easter.”
In addition to these objectives, Abaya and Homan both mentioned they had begun to read from a book of prayers every day. Abaya also noted that she is listening to more Christian music as a way of deepening her relationship with God during Lent.
“I think listening to music that is very explicitly about God helps me to get in a posture of worship towards Him, more than just the few minutes a day that are planned for quiet time with God,” Abaya said.
In an era of perpetual commotion and awaiting to-dos, Lent is an opportunity to reassess, contemplate, and progress towards an enhanced quality of life. While for many Christians, like Homan, Lent is designed to remove obstacles hindering one’s relationship with God, some would rather take additional religious action to better process and honor the suffering Jesus went through during this time. Lent holds a special power because Jesus’ sacrifice atoned for human sin, from which Christians were reconciled to God.
The Bible advises to “Let not steadfast love and faithfulness forsake you; bind them around your neck; write them on the tablet of your heart” [Proverbs 3:3]. In embracing the meaning of this passage during Lent, Christians hope to strengthen their commitment to God, and bear the significance upon their foreheads beyond the season of Lent.