Why bother with Lent?

Walking a Lenten path can help you ditch the malaise that holds you back.

Guest blog post by Peg Conway

Every year I approach Lent with a ambivalence bordering on dread. The struggle to establish what I should “do” produces performance anxiety, and the canvas of possibility seems too vast; the season itself, too long. The traditional prayer-fasting-almsgiving model sends me in disparate directions, and I arrive at Holy Week having tilled the surface instead of digging deeply. 

General unease about the state of the world has marked this year’s pre-Lenten discernment. I’m stuck in worry about the violence in Libya, our country’s ongoing wars, vitriolic budget conflicts at every level of government, and environmental destruction all around. Against such a backdrop, Lenten practices seem paltry. 

As “Why bother?” starts to form in my mind, I recall Kathleen Norris’ book Acedia and Me (see a review of the book) in which she reflects on an ancient monastic affliction called “acedia.” Acedia was one of the “eight bad thoughts” that plagued monks. Eventually it was folded in with sloth as one of the seven deadly sins, and sometimes it’s equated with depression. But it really is neither. 

Acedia is a particular malaise that Norris sums up with the phrase “Why bother?” Though it has been in near obscurity for hundreds of years, she suggests that acedia actually pervades American life: “Acedia has come so far with us that it easily attaches to our hectic and overburdened schedules. We appear to be anything but slothful, yet that is exactly what we are, as we do more and care less, and feel pressured to do still more.”

Prayer, especially the psalms, tops the list of monastic cures for acedia, so that is my chosen focus for Lent. Desiring a Lenten symbol, sort of like an Advent wreath, I’ve decided to make a weekly labyrinth walk at an area retreat center that has an outdoor labyrinth available. 

Labyrinths are ancient, winding patterns of unknown origin, though they are found in many religions around the world. They took on a specifically Christian dimension in the Middle Ages, when they became part of the church’s tradition of pilgrimage. Travel to the Holy Land was dangerous because of the Crusades, so the church designated seven pilgrimage cathedrals instead. Many had labyrinths built into the floors, like Chartres Cathedral outside Paris, and entering the labyrinth symbolized arriving in Jerusalem. 

For a daily practice, imitating the monks, I’ve selected a simple guide to morning and evening prayer based on the Liturgy of the Hours and invited my husband and teenage children to pray with me in the evening. 

It’s a relief to have made a decision. I hope to “give up” old attitudes and discover a new path, wherever it may lead. 

Guest blogger Peg Conway is a writer in Cincinnati, Ohio, who has contributed to U.S. Catholic and blogs at Sense of the Faithful.

For more on Lent, visit uscatholic.org/lent. Submit a guest blog post about Lent to onlineeditor@uscatholic.org.

Guest blog posts express the views of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views of U.S. Catholic, its editors, or the Claretians.