Does giving up espresso bring me closer to God? This thought burned through my mind as I sat and listened to the boys’ choir sing Psalm 37 during Evensong at Christ Church Cathedral in Oxford, England, a few years ago. With Ash Wednesday a mere two days prior, it seemed like everyone was giving up lattes and social media and the internet and announcing it to the world. One friend defended fasting from these activities because of how they intrude on our daily lives. I agreed. I, too, could use a break from the digital world.

But what happens after Lent and Easter Sunday, I thought to myself. Business as usual? Fire up the espresso machines? Tweet that I’m back from my social media fast?

Though I respected the beauty and depth represented in the tradition of Lent, tension grew in me. I struggled to align the good and holy intent of Lenten fasts with the very public spectacle it has evolved into for Western Christianity. We announce our screen time fasts or “disfigure our faces” when asked why we won’t have a glass of wine. Jesus exhorts his disciples to keep fasting a secret matter—an unseen act of worship to the God who is unseen (Matt. 6:16–18).

I loved how the season leading up to Resurrection Sunday swelled into what J. R. R. Tolkien called the eucatastrophe or the joyous upturn in the story of the human race. But I also observed how the pageantry fades. I loved the idea of abstaining from vices and stepping into Christ’s suffering. But I thought the spiritual discipline of fasting was meant to be more than a seasonal practice to abstain from first-world luxuries.

It was then I began a personal quest to seek out the heart of Lent.

Seeking the Heart of Lent

Historically, some of ...

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