Lent, which begins Wednesday, is perhaps the most underrated and overlooked spot on the calendar, perhaps the least popular of all religious holidays. With good reason. So much of American culture preaches a cavalier indulgence, yet lonely and austere Lent, a period of 40 days of fasting that leads to Easter, does the opposite.
Who says those things these days?
Fasting — from certain foods, beer, Facebook, sex — is about the spirit reasserting itself over the body. (During Ramadan, Muslims admirably give up food and drink from sun-up to sundown.) By denying the flesh for 40 days, a proper hierarchy is restored: spirit over desire. Debauchery is always about the flesh having its way too much, a sort of Las Vegas writ large. Fasting reminds the body it can become too big for its britches.
So, we Christians give up certain things.
One year, friends gave up houselights: lamps, overhead lights, everything. When it got dark outside, it also got dark inside their house. Soon, they fell into a synchronicity with the outside weather. Went to bed earlier. Read by candlelight. And so on.
This Lenten season, why not turn out the lights on a source of immense frustration?
Why not fast from something that causes so much suffering?
This Lent, why not fast from politics?
For many of us, national politics has become a personal, emotional prison. We react. We respond. We seethe. Tweets and headlines and Washington dramas — our emotions skyrocket like last week's Dow. National politics is a chariot driver clutching both reins; our emotions and thoughts are yanked, pulled and hooked this way and that.
"It's a hook that never ends," my wife says.
So why not declare our independence? For 40 days, why not experiment with a political-free life?
Stop actively watching, listening, commenting, cursing, reading, posting, ruminating and discussing national politics.
What would happen?
What would appear in your life?
What would vanish?
Would you become less happy or more?
Less anxious or more?
Politics has become exhausting and all-encompassing. The immediacy of 21st century news, the lightning-rod personality of President Trump, and all the emotions that follow. You may love Trump or you may hate him, but either way, fasting from such a national behemoth is not only a healthy move, it's a necessary one.
Yes, doing so may seem a privilege. A luxury of sorts. Can immigrants, for example, fast from politics?
No, they can't. Too much is at stake. But if the rest of us are going to be the most mature, most responsible citizens we can be, there must come a time when we learn to plant our feet firmly on the ground and respond — with wisdom, clarity — to national crises and issues. We must retreat and fast in order to one day return to the fight and fray with grace and balance, neither of which is cultivated from the outside in.
We're like reeds in the wind, swaying back and forth to this tweet, that press conference, this new Washington drama. Instead, we need to be like mountains. Disciplined and unmovable. Responding from the inside out.
Such a fast is not head-in-the-sand withdrawal.
It's a conscious experiment in re-evaluating our relationship with national politics.
After all, Lent's only 40 days.
There are still 325 other days.
I promise: politics will be waiting, drooling even, for us to return once Lent ends.
But can we be different when we return to politics?
David Cook writes a Sunday column and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6329. Follow him on Facebook at DavidCookTFP.