OUR VIEW: A time for self-searching

For many people here in the Bayou Region – and throughout the world – today is Ash Wednesday, the official start of the season of Lent. For Christians who observe the season, Lent is a time when favorite vices – ranging from candy bars to tobacco and alcohol – are forsaken by the faithful until Easter. The fasting is broken at that point in observance of Jesus Christ’s resurrection, in the Christian tradition, an event that is the bedrock of that faith, the epitome of the savior’s existence on earth. And so this period of fasting that begins today is solemn and sacred.

Here in Louisiana and other communities that have a tradition of Carnival celebration, Ash Wednesday is the day after Fat Tuesday – Mardi Gras Day – during which excesses of all sorts are allowed and encouraged.

The origins of Lent lie in Christian tradition, with general theological agreement of roots born in recognition of 40 days Jesus spent in the desert, fasting and praying, preparing for a coming ministry.

This Lenten observance, while itself unique to Christianity because of its historical and theological underpinnings, is not unique in the sense of deprivation for purposes of spiritual and emotional clarity. Some form of fasting or denial is common to many of the world’s religions, each of which recognizes in its own way the importance of taking a breather and focusing on the hereafter rather than the here.

In Islamic tradition the holy month of Ramadan is marked by daily fasting from dawn to sunset. Acts of prayer and charity are encouraged, indeed mandated. Self-discipline is practiced, during this time when, according to spiritual writings, the gates of heaven are opened while the gate of hell are locked and devils placed in irons.

Renewal of faith, spiritual reflection and various abstentions in addition to fasting are practiced.

In the Jewish faith, Yom Kippur is the day of atonement, following the celebration of the new year of the Hebrew calendar.

Thaipusam is the day of atonement observed by some Hindus. During a great festival marked by prayer, God’s grace is sought to vanquish sin and evil.

Whether one follows religious practices or not, the concept of self-examination must be seen as desirable and good, not only for the self but for the community at large. Whether we show up at a church for ashes today or not, whether we ascribe to doctrines that mandate penitence or not, a practice each and every faith in some way incorporates into its traditions has to be good.

We see no time better than the present for self-examination to be needed in our communities, on many different levels. Never before has negativity dominated public conversations – and therefore no doubt private conversation – as it has in recent memory. Politically, socially, and in all ways we see examples daily of how fear and loathing give birth to their expected offspring, which is hatred and intolerance.

This problem is not limited to one political or social segment of our local society, but in how we treat each other, to all. Placing personality above principal, winning an argument or a point at all cost, are all common practices. As Terrebonne Parish Sheriff Jerry Larpenter pointed out last week in article that ran on these pages, even celebrants during Mardi Gras parades appear “meaner” and fights appear to be more common, during events that should be celebrating the highest virtues in our community. “Maybe it’s the economy,” Larpenter had mused.

We think he may have a point.

Tough times can draw harsh responses to situations that we might under other circumstances let pass to the benefit of all.

Judgment, suspicion and intolerance are rampant on the social media pages of our neighbors.

We suggest that as we move into this season of Lent observed by so many in our communities, that it is good to remember – whether we adhere to that particular faith or not – that self-examination is always a virtue, and that there is no time like the present to begin the practice. Let us all take a moment to inventory ourselves, rather than our neighbors, or even people who are far away from us but whose actions we believe have an impact upon us. Let us all contemplate how a stronger sense of community can benefit all. And for those of us who do adhere to the traditions involved with the Lenten season, let’s remember that the true purpose of our observance involves a lot more than giving up candy.