1. simple past tense and past participle of lend
2. (in the Christian religion) an annual season of fasting and penitence in preparation for Easter, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter, observed by Roman Catholic, Anglican, and certain other churches.
I grew up hearing a lot about what I should give up for Lent. (By the way, guys, I’m Catholic.) There were the traditional years where chocolate hypothetically never touched my lips. When I got older and my mom introduced the idea of giving something to God instead of giving something up, I said a few rosaries before bed. Lent was the technically-40-days-but-feels-like-forever season before Easter, when my parochial classmates and I had to sit through weekly Stations of the Cross and go to extra all-school Masses and I looked longingly at the Easter dress hanging in my closet that I couldn’t wear yet.
Meanwhile, I heard another version of the word, uncapitalized this time, in the old-fashioned books we read. The people in them talked about having “lent” someone a book, or a cup of sugar, or a carriage. Like “dreamt,” it seemed so much more romantic than saying you loaned something to someone. So, naturally, I tried to use such vocabulary whenever I could. (I probably sounded pretentious to my third grade classmates, but then again I could spell “pretentious” and they didn’t know what it meant, so they just called me a nerd instead.)
And yet I never connected these two meanings in my head, the capital L and the lower case, until recently. The term for the liturgical season originally came from an Old English term lencten, which literally meant the lengthening of the daylight hours. This is the part of the year when the days oh-so-gradually begin to stretch themselves out like cats elongating their spines in the sun, digging their claws in for summer. (And yes, when I was younger, the Lenten season seemed to lengthen itself just to torment me.) But, ideally, isn’t this time of preparation for Easter meant to help us stretch our spiritual muscles a little bit? The idea of lengthening, to me, now calls to mind the idea of reaching out toward God, lending Him something precious to me and, having lent Him the time I used to spend on that Very Important Thing, perhaps realizing that the hours were always meant to be devoted to Him anyway. It’s not really lending God anything, because I already believe that everything is His. So maybe Lent is about stripping away the arrogance that leads me to believe that I am doing Him a favor. Maybe it’s about realizing it’s He Who is doing the lending here.