Lent has traditionally been understood as a preparatory time before Easter to participate in the sacrifices of Christ by making some difficult sacrifices of your own--usually involving some kind of fasting (no meat, no fats/oils, no sweets, hence the over the top revels of Fat Tuesday to mark the end of Mardi Gras--literally Fat Tuesday--with the sweet and fatty foods) as well as something unique to the penitent that is given up. By entering into the sacrificial postures, it is supposed to make you more aware of how much more Christ gave up to descend to humanity and be killed on your behalf.
I am not a substitutionary atonement adherent and don't observe Lent with those purposes. I see the death and resurrection of Christ as just another variation of the many springtime renewal stories. Every tradition has something that honors the Life Cycle springing forth at this time of year. Whether it is a Pagan celebration of Earth Day, Chinese New Year, Passover/Easter, everyone has some ritual of honoring that which died in order to generate the new life that sustains us through the coming year.
For me, personally, I am looking at the death of who I was (more accurately, who I thought I was) and the rebirth of myself into who I am becoming. It is a time every year when I consciously try to let go of habits of thought and pre-conceived ideas about who I am, of what I think the world is, of How Things Are. The Lenten period marks a space between the worlds, a gestation as it were between What Was and What Is. Yogis talk often about the Space Between the Breaths. a little death in the middle of the breathing that sustains us. Enlightenment, they say, is to be found in the Space Between, in the And of in-and-out.
For me, Lent is a conscious Space Between last year and next year. It is living in the And. Recognizing a space between Ending what came before and Beginning the rest of my life.Therefore I take up practices for the Lenten season that will provoke my thinking into that death-and-resurrection, rest-and-renewal, sort of focus. Usually some form of meditation, some form of giving-up, some form of service, or all three.This year I'm attempting all three: a fairly rigorous dietary restriction for the purpose of clearing my mind and entering the hidden depths of repressed memories and emotions, a meditation on my old journals and (unexpectedly) the New Testament book of James, and a creative service by participating in the Religion-Free Bible Project and (hopefully) getting my Heretic blogging back up and running.
It is a hefty undertaking. More than I have attempted before. Given my health ups-and-downs (mostly downs) I don't know how much of my To-Do list will get done. But the honor is in the attempt, in the being willing to place myself in the space, to submit to the process, rather than the perfect execution of the tasks.