20 Alternative, Life-Affirming Activities to Do During Lent
Jennifer Angelina Petro
There is debate in both pagan and Christian circles as to the origins of Lent, and, as usual, both sides think they’re right. We know Norse people put ashes on their forehead to protect them from Odin’s more violent moods. And it’s hard not to notice that Yggdrasil, the World Tree, in Norse mythology, is an ash tree. We do know Jesus never mentioned Ash Wednesday, nor anything even close. It was a ritual adopted many centuries later. We also know that, in most Christian denominations—both Protestant and Catholic, that it’s traditional to “give something up” for forty days. Some people fast from meat. Other’s treat it sort of like a New Year’s Resolution and deny themselves chocolate, TV, fried foods, and the like.
I propose that Lent be a time of welcoming new things into our lives, of affirming people and things we love and new people and things we want to cultivate love for. The word, “Lent,” simply means springtime. Why, during such a lavishly abundant time of growth should we refuse ourselves even the simplest of pleasures? I truly believe that is not what Jesus wants. I believe he wants us to enjoy “the kingdom of God,” and to share of what we have. He fasted, yes, so the story goes, but he never said we should do it for forty days. Early Christian Church leaders were all about encouraging the illiterate flock to deny itself pleasures, to self-flagellate, to perform outrageous acts of penance, and all manner of self-mortifications, while they sat back in their gold-gilded rooms feasting. It almost became sort of a contest: who can sleep on a bed of nails the longest? Who can pick the worst self-abusive behaviors for the glory of God? The body was, after all, sinful.
Well, if we are made in the image and likeness of the Divine, then I say our bodies are sacred and meant to be treated as such. In light of that, here are twenty suggestions for alternative, life-affirming things we can do for the next forty days.
-Commit to doing some kind of act of self-care.
-Accept and celebrate positive things about yourself and others in active, real ways.
-Do something creative every day and then throw a party after that time to culminate the resurrection of (or the evolution of) your creativity.
-Do something kind (and in secret) for someone every day—especially perhaps for those you may not “like,” or who are “different,” than you.
-Take time to expand your understanding of things like feminism, racism, gender studies, white-privilege, etc., and ways to get involved locally and/or globally to help the world.
-Send someone (the same person or different) an email every day with a silly joke or inspirational quote.
-Sing every day–your favorite song, a new song, a silly song, a made-up song—to yourself, in the shower, at work, while walking, to strangers, to friends, to family.
-Try a new food every day and/or share food with someone else.
-Make every effort to sit down with your whole family for dinner.
-Every time you catch yourself thinking something judgmental towards someone, including yourself, reframe that thought into something loving, positive, and compassionate.
-Donate your time and resources to someone or an organization that helps others.
-Read spiritual literature every morning and/or evening. Or, at very least, read something other than online news—a story, a children’s book, poetry, a biography. You get the idea.
-Take time to learn about different faith traditions with the goal of looking for similarities and places your faiths converge.
-Eat breakfast and/or health(ier) foods.
-Take one little (or big) step towards your dream every day.
-Take a moment to breathe consciously outside.
-Take a moment to notice—really notice—a tree, flower, cloud, a loved one, your own amazingness.
-Throw away, or give away, one thing in your living space that you haven’t touched, noticed, used in ages.
-Inventory your life a little each day. Ask yourself how you’re doing as a citizen of the world. Be honest. No shame. Just objective self-reflection. What are you doing well? Where can you improve? Are there any amends to make? And so on.
-Go ahead and eat something you absolutely love.
The list is endless and as varied as you. The point is, instead of Lent being a time of denying things we like and love, we make it a time of embracing what we love in mindful, attentive, fun, and thankful ways.
It might also be fun to have your worship community, your family, your co-workers, and so on—commit to doing one of these affirming activities together and then celebrate the revelations and resurrections of playfulness and appreciation that hopefully would result by doing such a shared ritual.
As the season unfolds, it’s OK to start up a new “Forty Days,” anytime. It’s OK to celebrate the resurrection of anything that was lost and then found.
And, of course, it is the hope the cultivation of these positive things would extend far after Lent (or at least much longer than most New Year’s Resolutions); that they would become habits, so to speak, or perhaps, continually evolving spiritual practices.
You might be wondering what I have chosen to do this Lenten season. As of the writing of this post, I have the flu, so I am not committing to anything that puts me in contact with anyone else until I am officially not contagious. For now, I am committing to telling myself something nice about myself every day. I also commit to send little messages of appreciation and inspiration to someone different every day. Look in your inbox.
All donations go to medical expenses and groceries. Thank you. <3
Reflections on Going to the Super Bowl Parade for the Philadelphia Eagles
Thursday, February 8, 2018
Jennifer Angelina Petro
I picked up sons Ben and Daniel at 4:30 AM. After stopping at Wawa (because everyone should stop at Wawa on the way to anything–especially on their way to a Super Bowl Parade) and headed downtown. It took us an hour to both drive and eventually find a parking space. It was another 15-minute walk to where we set up camp for the next eight hours, near where the parade was going to end—the Art Museum steps.
The sun had yet to rise, and people were filing in the slowly-lifting darkness from Broad Street down to the Art Museum, like a jubilant river. It was 6 AM and people were already shouting Eagles chants, fight songs, and Brady-Sucks, and yes, people were already drinking.
As the crowd grew hour by hour, the people grew kinder and happier. People were dancing, singing, oh, yes, and drinking—and they were also happy, high-fiving, laughing. And as the sun rose and illuminated the Art Museum, the sea of people swelled with anticipation.
People played catch with footballs that seemed to be soaring around the crowd from out of nowhere. People introduced themselves to those standing around them. People exchanged stories of how long they waited for this day and what it all means. Strangers hugged and offered each other blankets, handwarmers, and beer.
And the green. Nearly every person there—of all shapes, sizes, ages, race, gender-identity, and expression was bedecked in Eagles green. Looking out across the ever-burgeoning crowd, it turned into a luminous green sea that ebbed and flowed and raised its waves to heaven.
Yes, there were the knuckleheads. One idiot climbed a tree, urinated (very poorly aimed) into a water bottle, spraying the people below with urine, and then, threw the full bottle down among the people. If the police hadn’t been there I think he would have been beaten to a pulp. The people below were justifiably (pardon the pun) pissed.
One nearly-naked guy with green hair smashed two beer cans together in front of his face and roared as he sprayed the crowd with Budweiser. The surrounding people weren’t happy, but not as unhappy as those who were where the shit-brain peed on them.
Then there was the guy so stoned he came tumbling through the crowd like a wobbly train, and, if I hadn’t had been there to grab him, he would have plowed into the two old ladies in front of us.
“Thank you,” he said with his voice slurred and his eyes rolling around in his head like marbles, and then he just kept stumbling through the crowd.
There was no violence though. No meanness (yes, peeing off a tree was mean, but he was clearly drunk, and cracking up as he did his heinous act), no rage, no property being damage, no cars set on fire. It was plain and simply a party. It was a celebration of civic-pride—city pride—family pride—and, of course, pride for our team—the bunch of under-estimated players who overcame a ton of adversity to sweep unexpectedly and remarkably through the playoffs to bring home the long-awaited Super Bowl victory. It is a team comprised of good and decent people. It is a team together in true brotherly love. It is a team unlike any other I have ever seen, and I was proud to be there to celebrate them and our city. It was glorious, hilarious, bizarre, and fun—profoundly fun. When a city comes together to dance, sing, and embrace one another—it is a truly beautiful thing—I dare-say, holy.
There is so much wrong with the world. And, I believe there is far more right with the world. Today was one of the right things, and I am grateful to have been there with two of my sons. We will never forget it, and neither shall this team, this city—all the people living and dead who waited so long for this moment—who suffered through agonizing years of frustration. This was a day of unbridled joy—a collective exhale of relief and a collective in-breath of getting ready to sing—arm-in-arm-again and again, as loudly as humanly possible— “Fly, Eagles, Fly…”