My Lent-ish Project

January 15th, 2013 5:43 pm

Ragnhild Bjørvik OPSAHL


It’s Lent. It’s the time for to make amends for all my broken promises. The time for second chances. The time to really try to see if I can work out twice a week, become healthier, drink less, not smoke. No, sorry, wait, it was to remember Jesus Christ. I was thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. This is the story of my “Lent Resolution”, during the year 2012.

Candy and alcohol

I have heard about a lot of different “determinations” people do for Lent. Fasting is, obviously, still the most popular choice. I have also heard about those who will give up smoking, sex, candy, pleasures or alcohol. I have heard about those who would read and contemplate over a bible verse every day. I have heard about those who gave up all of the above. I have tried most of them and succeeded for about a week.

No, that’s not right. I have made it once; I must have been four or five years ago. As a new theology student, I decided that I would not eat any candy and exercise every week. And I made it. And I was proud. And I boasted about it. And…wait; was that what Lent was all about?

What would Martin Luther do?

It turned out that most of my determinations for Lent sounded like a second chance for broken New Year’s Resolutions. But now I did it for Jesus! Then I started to make new rules, like “If I don’t eat candy on Sundays, when one traditionally has a “day off”, then I can I end my resolutions earlier, so that I can eat chocolate during the Easter Holiday”. When I tried to fast on meat; I did the same thing. Maybe I could just fast meat for dinner, but still have ham for breakfast. And fish. I could probably eat fish, because that isn’t real meat. Good plan.

The Theological Faculty I attend in Oslo is Lutheran to the bone. Sometimes I think we ask ourselves more often “What would Martin Luther do?”, than “What would Jesus do?”. And Luther would probably question my intentions, my merits of piety and good deeds. I guess he would even call me self-righteous, blunt as he was. Actually, a fellow student of mine said the same thing.

Self-righteous? Not a good word after six weeks of looking at that chocolate with water running from my mouth and a longing for the Easter Holiday when I finally could quit and tell everyone about how good I had been. How hard it had been. But I, as a good Christian had done it. Besides, I had lost ten pounds!

This is not a critique

But both Luther and my fellow student (also, the quite blunt one) were right. My boasting and new rules said the same. I didn’t do it for anybody else, but me. It had nothing to do with Jesus, repentance or Lent. Thank you Jesus for dying for all my sins, but why do you have make me give up chocolate?

This is not a critique. I know of many, who every year fast and say not a word about it. Who don’t do it for themselves, but for all the right reasons that I couldn’t do. I applaud their resolution and patience. I envy their steadfastness and good intentions. It just wasn’t right for me.

Me, myself and I

Ah, there it was again. Me. It wasn’t right for me. My good or bad intentions. My Lent resolutions. What then, was I supposed to do? Following my merits of piety, I turned to the bible. To Isaiah 58, to be precise:

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?

I had two epiphanies. First: Lent for me could be about me, but what I could and should do for others. Second: It had to be something that I didn’t quit the first week, but something that would keep my focus and motivation. In other word, it had to be something that I really didn’t want to do. It had to be something that stung.

It’s all about the money

For the record, I’m greedy. It’s not one of my best qualities. It’s one of my worst, to be frank. I like to spend money on myself. I like to eat out, and I don’t like to buy cheap food in the grocery stores. I love shoes! Being a student, I don’t have much money, but being Norwegian, I can’t complain. In my life money, Mammon, is unfortunately became a bigger part of my life that Jesus and Lent.

Oh, no! I found my Lent resolutions. I would have to limit my expenses. Ok. I could do that. I would be saving money! But, hey, this smells like self-righteous merits of piety again. It is Lent, the year is 2012, and I was left with only one choice. I would have to give my money away.

My Lent-ish Project, or how to fast money

What? Give it away? My greedy heart wept. I decided to use my money on one project. In Oslo, there is a magazine called =Oslo. =Oslo is Norway’s first street magazine. The magazine is a voice for social outcasts, the poor, drug addicts and other disadvantaged groups. The idea is that the disadvantaged groups will be selling the magazine, and the seller retains half of the retail price. It’s a really good project, and one dear to my heart.

I decided to buy a magazine every time I saw a seller. At “best”, this was once a week. At “worst”, it was thrice a day. One magazine cost 50 Norwegian kroners. This is four and a half cups of black coffee in the University. One dinner. A seventh of a month ticket with public transport. I saw my shoes and cups of coffee fly away with different sellers, and I felt both joy and annoyance. I felt joy, because I could have a Lent Resolution that didn’t circle around me. And I felt annoyance, because I really found that Lent Resolution that stung. Irony. And I didn’t tell a soul. Damn, if someone would call my merits self-righteous again.

Hello, Jesus, where are you?

For the record, I bought one dress and one jacket, so I didn’t keep my promise. So you would be right to ask if I fulfilled my goal. Did it urge me to spiritual renewal, penance, refection or prayer? I don’t know. Silly answer, but it’s true.

Still, I think it was the best that I could have done. I did something that stung, but first and foremost, I did what felt right living in the money-spending and rich land that I live in. I even think it ended up being what Lent is supposed to be about: others. To share our bread with the hungry. To see, to do, to touch. It was a private deal between, well, Jesus and me. It’s not a universal solution, but it was the right decision there and then.

Lent is strictly personal that way, in all its collectiveness.


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