On Sunday, the Philadelphia Episcopal Cathedral welcomed the Philadelphia Interfaith Visionary Women’s Council.
The Reverend Sarah E. Hedgis, Associate Priest over Congregational Life, welcomed us warmly and taught us about the Christian season of Lent. Although a devout Christian, in my own faith of Mormonism we do not celebrate Lent. So I came to this event excited to learn more about a tradition observed even before its official recognition by the Council of Nicea in 325 A.D.
Lent occurs 40 days prior to Easter (not counting Sundays), in remembrance of the time of Jesus Christ’s forty day fast in the wilderness. Lent is a preparatory time of prayer, sacrifice, and good works prior to Easter. This time is meant for reflecting on your commitment and relationship with God.
Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, which falls on March 1st this year. Ashes are placed on the forehead in the sign of a cross—powerfully symbolizing both repentance and forgiveness, through Jesus Christ’s sacrifice. The ashes symbolize the knowledge of our mortality, from dust we were created and to dust we will return. Ashes also symbolize repentance or remorse for those things that draw us away from God.
The observance of Lent is unique and personal to the individuals who follow it—you can choose to fast, or to go without, anything that draws you away from God. Perhaps you feel like you are watching too much television, or indulging in too many sweets, or maybe you feel the need to forego Facebook.
Anything that may be enticing you away from your relationship with God would be something to go without during this season of fasting.
Another option for Lent is to actively do something to bring yourself closer to God. Meditation, daily scripture study, or daily acts of service are all examples of efforts to commit to keeping during the season of Lent. The objective of Lent is to re-align your life with God and to come closer to Him through your daily living.
As this idea of fasting and recommitting to God was discussed within our group, I was struck by how many similarities there are among our different faiths. In my own faith, I fast the first Sunday of each month, going without food and water for 24 hours. I, too, use this time to pray and ponder upon my own life.
I hope to gain insights into how I can be more like my Savior. There are even occasions, other than the first Sunday of the month, when I have fasted for a particular purpose. Always, my fasting has at its foundation a desire to grow closer to God.
Those of the Jewish faith in our group expressed recognition that Yom Kippur shares similarities with the season of Lent. Yom Kippur is also a season of fasting and purification before God. Those of the Muslim faith shared that the month Ramadan is also a time of fasting, having confidence that fasting will cause a believer to be more aware of God all the time.
This concept of fasting, or going without something in order to draw closer to God, transcends theologies. Although it is not normally a part of my preparation for Easter, after learning more about the traditions surrounding Lent, I think that I, too, will make an effort to remove those things from my own life that pull me away from God. I will make a stronger effort to build habits that will help me to walk in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.
As part of our interfaith experience, we were invited to consider the art exhibited throughout the cathedral. Won Choi, an internationally renowned artist, exhibited her Heaven is the Limit collection in the Cathedral. Won’s use of the elements of fire, water, air, earth, and space symbolize that what is beautiful is spiritual and what is spiritual is beautiful.
Won works with a concept, sometimes for years, before one of her pieces is complete. This is true for my own journey of spiritual growth—dedication and time are essential to gaining greater understanding.
Over her years as an artist, Won has discovered that as her own spiritual understanding has grown and developed, so has her perception of the world. What a wonderful lesson for each of us! As we deepen our own spiritual understandings, our perceptions will also mature.
May each of us continue to reach across the issues that could divide us. Let us seek for greater understanding in conversation. Let us listen to each other with respect. My own experience with learning about others’ faiths has only deepened my appreciation for my own faith. Through studying others’ beliefs and practices, I am more fully embracing my own.
By Elizabeth M. Latey
Public Affairs Assistant Director in Social Media
The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints