On Wednesday - Ash Wednesday - Western Christians began Lent, and Southwest Coloradans set about observing Lent in a variety of ways.Five local churches are collaborating to offer ecumenical Lenten services leading up to Easter, including for the first time this year, First Presbyterian Church of Durango.
"I know clergy who prepare for Lent," said the Rev. Andrew Cooley of St. Mark's Episcopal Church, which has participated in the ecumenical services for several years, "but Lent is itself the preparation. We celebrate Epiphany right up through Mardi Gras and then begin Lent on Ash Wednesday."
In some denominations Lent runs for 40 days, from Ash Wednesday to Palm Sunday, with the number 40 correlating with the number of days Jesus spent in the wilderness and the number of years the Israelites wandered in the desert with Moses after fleeing Egypt. For Roman Catholics, it is generally considered to last until the Last Supper on Holy Thursday, the day before Good Friday.
"'Becoming awake' are two words I use often to describe the purpose of Lent," Cooley said on Thursday. "Awake to deeper understanding and deeper faith. We shed all things that distract us from becoming awake."
Cooley believes that another purpose of Lent is to pay attention to our mortality and issues surrounding death. In a piece he wrote for St. Mark's Messenger, he wrote that as he ages, those are becoming clearer and more powerful for him.
"The great questions of faith are often raised in the face of death," he said. "The death of Jesus is something to embrace and be baptized into."
On Ash Wednesday, St. Mark's has the tradition of holding a blood drive.
"We give a unit of blood as an icon of fasting," Cooley said. "It's a wonderful rich symbol. We have actually given the essence of life to serve others."
For many Christians, Lent is seen as a time to give up a favorite food or activity.
"Shedding things like sweets or TV or meat doesn't make us holy or impress God," Cooley wrote in his article, "but if in the practice of shedding behaviors, we shed some of our ego's grip on our sense of self, we then can become more aware of God's abiding presence that is always there, but often hidden beneath the frantic and compulsive lives we lead."