Forty is a number, but not just any number. For forty weeks a baby grows in the nourishing and sheltering safety of its mother’s womb before it can breathe and eat and cry and poop all by itself and exist outside her mother’s body. Okay, she still needs her Mam for quite some time. But tiny though and pretty helpless for the time being, it’s all there: the eyes and the ears, the ten little fingers and the ten tiny toes. From now on she is unmistakably a human being of her own.
Forty is not just any number. It’s a number that has to do with evolving, becoming, maturing. Forty is a number of growth.
For forty days and nights a man goes into the desert to confront devils and demons and to come to a clear understanding of his own life and of the meaning of his incarnation in that particular person at that specific moment in the history of this earth. And of course it wasn’t a double mission: discovering the meaning of life and fighting devils and demons. The devils and the demons – often portrayed as one figure that goes by the name of Satan – were there to distract this man from is original purpose. In fact, while meditating the meaning of his life, these devils and demons were nothing more than reflections of his own thoughts and considerations if he were to choose to act from the ego. The devils and demons were actually all the options and opportunities most people in their ego-state are very susceptible to. You know, things like power, success, fame, money, wealth. Clearly the man, we know by the name of Jesus, is not easily fooled and quite aware of the mission he has chosen to fulfill in this life. And does he grow during those forty days and nights in the desert? Definitely.
Once a whole people went through the desert. Not for forty days but for forty years. Did they fight demons and devils? You bet they did. They were tempted time after time to forsake the God that had liberated them from slavery, and at some point they almost did. Their hardship was as common as it is for any people nowadays that is going through a desert. Stuck between slavery and freedom, between courage and cowardice with hunger and thirst, sickness, insecurity and despair.
And yet, they grew! Kept together by this common vision of a land of milk and honey and guided by some strong and wise men and women, they became one people with one God. Not overnight, but gradually.
Like in Dutch, the English language should find another word for Lent. Not to replace it, but to complement it and to release it from its old-fashioned and narrow meaning as a time of fasting and penance. The way Christians, especially Catholics, have understood and practised it for ages and is now, for various and understandable reasons, not so appealing anymore. And yet, the world today, people today could benefit greatly from such a period of meditation and reflection. Of course you can skip the wine and the sugar and the fags if you think it will do you good. But what is really called for in our noisy, busy lives in our rushing, complex society is time. Not necessarily forty days, but at least TIME.
Time to slow down, to hear yourself breathe, to feel your own heartbeat. Time to check the crossroads and ask yourself: am I still on track, am I still heading for what really matters in my life, the goals I set, the choices I made? Do they still make sense, these goals and choices, or should they be altered altogether? Time to look within and reconsider your life. Am I still growing, or have I somehow come to a standstill? Am I living the life I believe I should be living; am I becoming the human being I am meant to be?