Give it up
Lent a chance for Christians to 'spring clean the spiritual house'
By LaReeca Rucker
It was one of the hardest things she's ever had to do, but Allie Kate Williams, 9, made the sacrifice. Williams is saying no to sweets for 40 days. Like many Christians, it's her way of observing Lent.
"I gave up candy, cookies, cake and highly sugared things," said the St. Andrew's Episcopal School student. "I did it because this is one of the first years I really understood why you give up things. You are supposed to pray every time you want the thing you are giving up,"
she said. "At school, if they have cookies or dessert, I get fruit or a granola bar."
Angie Williams, director of Children and Family Ministries at Parkway Hills Methodist Church, said giving up sweets has been a learning experience for her daughter.
"This is the first year she could really understand the whole point of the sacrifice and use it to build a closer relationship with God,"she said.
Local religious leaders say it's also wise to add new practices during Lent that enhance spirituality.
"Lent is a 40-day period that is symbolic of the 40 days Jesus spent in the desert in prayer and isolation before he began his public ministry," said Mary Woodward, director of the Catholic Diocese of Jackson's Department of Evangelization. "It is a time for Christians to reflect more deeply on their spiritual lives and things they might need to let go of to improve themselves. For Catholics, it involves prayer, fasting and alms giving (charitable works), which we should be doing year-round."
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which this year fell on Feb. 25, and ends with an evening Mass that revisits the Last Supper the Thursday before Easter.
Different churches observe Lent in different ways. Father Paul Yerger, of Clinton's Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, said Lent began as a period of intense preparation for Easter baptisms.
"In the Orthodox Church, there's a standard fast," he said. "We eat no animal products - no meat, butter, eggs. The norm would be to do without all those foods during Lent, pray, attend more church services, and do more for others, like the sick and the lonely."
The Rev. Keith Tonkel, pastor of Jackson's Wells Memorial United Methodist Church, said his congregation views Lent as a 40-day period of introspection and repentance that emphasizes helping others.
"Our particular emphasis is not giving up something for Lent, but rather taking on something new that would benefit others," he said. "For example, one of our folks decided to visit a nursing home each day during Lent."
The Rev. Susannah Grubbs Carr, associate pastor at Madison United Methodist Church, said some adopt a new practice, such as spending more time with their children and spouses, doing charity work or reading a Gospel story throughout Lent.
"Often times, we take the 40 days of Lent to reflect on our relationship with God, confess sins, examine our lives and implement spiritual
discipline," she said. "Spring is here. We are seeing flowers bloom from winter. It's like that in our spiritual life. Lent is about spring cleaning the spiritual house."
Debra Abraham, a member of Clinton's Holy Resurrection Orthodox Church, plans to fast and attend more church services during Lent.
"It's a time of the year when we refocus and try to see ourselves in comparison with Christ, who is our gold standard," she said. "It's about
looking forward with great joy to the resurrection of Christ."
Brandon resident Stacey Spiehler and her family decided to participate in Lent this year for spiritual, not religious, reasons.
"We decided we would give up eating out at restaurants," she said. "We're trying to lose weight and save money. Last year, I gave up the Internet. The year before that, I gave up chocolate. It's kind of a disciplinary measure just to see if I can."
Marlene Williams, a 21-year-old biology student at Tougaloo College, attends Jackson's Holy Ghost Catholic Church.
"I decided to take a look at my life and some of the negative things I do, such as cursing, judging others and making promises that I'm not going to keep," said Williams, who is focusing on being a better person during Lent. I decided to remove all those negative things so I can become closer to God. I hope that I can make it a part of my everyday life and grow in my relationship with him."