Many people are now celebrating Lent, a period of time commemorating Jesus' sojourn in the wilderness before starting his public ministry.
In some ways, his time of testing in the desert resembles a Native American vision quest.
The traditional Western Christian practice during this period is to give something up, usually a luxury. It is a period of penitence.
Pagans and Unitarians have always been a bit suspicious of the notion of penitence - especially when Christianity is so fixated on sexual sin. But perhaps we do need a time of self-audit.
Maybe there is a period in the Pagan wheel of the year, or in more traditional festivals such as those celebrated by Religio Romana, when a period of self-examination would be appropriate. After all, Pagan ethics is all about the cultivation of virtues, rather than the following of commandments, so sometimes the garden of virtues might require a little weeding and pruning. One possible Pagan festival that might serve our purpose here is the Roman festival of Tacita (18 February), sacred to Tacita, goddess of silence and the halting of unfriendly speech
and hostile tongues. Just the thing for the internet generation.
Unitarian Universalists have suggested the idea of trying to develop a spiritual practice during this time, or to engage in social justice work.
Danny Crosby has a wonderful reflection on Lent, using a Native American story to illuminate the whole concept.
Alain de Botton, in Religion for Atheists, points out that one of the useful things about religion is that it puts dates in our calendars to remind us to focus on specific aspects of life. I would suggest that Lent is an example of this, in that it reminds us to prune back on excess (whether excess busyness or excess consumption).
I have often joked that I celebrate the festival of Borrowed, but I have just realised that this could be taken seriously to highlight the idea that we do not own the Earth and its finite resources, we only borrow them, and share them with all other life. We would do well to remember this, and to build in times in our lives when we cut back on the excess.
A friend of mine has given up Facebook for Lent - which is an excellent idea, but I just can't quite manage it. So instead I have resolved to slow down and take some time for meditation every day.