Many words can have more than one meaning. As I began to write this article the word “bore” came to mind, as in full bore. It’s a mechanical term referring to the maximum effort expended to get the most power out of a cylinder, or bore. Just as I was prepared to exhort everyone to put full effort into the remainder of the Fast, I thought of the other meaning of bore, as in to be bored! It made me think that for some, Lent might be approached more as a big bore, something to be endured, designed to take all the fun out of living and dining for forty days, and little else.
Let’s look at the two approaches. One presumes that there is indeed something to “get out” of Lent, that spiritual effort is required, but that in the end maximum benefits are the results. The Church certainly has this understanding. Manifold services are to be accompanied by fasting and additional personal prayer. It is a period which brings “great profit to the soul,” to quote from Lenten hymns.
The other approach, that Lent is a bore, views this time as the following rules and regulations, noting how strictly, or not, one fasts. Little emphasis is placed on prayer, the natural end of fasting. Therefore, attempting to fast can not only be a challenge but a “downer,” a meaningless exercise trying to stay on a semblance of an ecclesiastical diet, but nothing more. It becomes an end, in and of itself, and hence a spiritually insignificant practice.
Of course, the purpose of Orthodoxy is not to fast. It is to draw us into an ever closer relationship with God. During Lent, we have a dedicated, seasonal opportunity to do that, to be drawn ever closer to God by spending more time in prayer and worship and limiting the distractions of food and entertainment. The latter are not bad in and of themselves, but often become the focus of much of our lives.
The many opportunities for “extra” prayer and worship—Presanctified Liturgies, Memorial Saturdays, Mission Vespers—become a natural end of our fasting, if we are fasting to draw nearer to God. Without availing ourselves of them, without going “full bore”, however, limits Lent’s outcome, like underutilizing the potential power of an engine. We might fire on some cylinders, but not all. That’s when Lent becomes a big bore, something to endure at best, until “it’s over” at Pascha.
Clean Week was when we drained the crankcase and changed the oil at Forgiveness Vespers. Perhaps, we accompanied this by changing the timing on our spiritual engines. Or we might have adjusted our carburetors to accommodate a new spiritual regimen, a richer mixture of “fuel” and “air.” But unless we engage the disciplines of Lent fully, we are merely tinkering around in the garage, with an engine that might be idling nicely, but in a car that’s not going anywhere.
We don’t admire a car merely because it idles well, however. What we are really interested in is the ride. That takes more effort but it will demonstrate what the car was actually made for. Souls are like that, too. They aren’t made to idle, any more than cars are. Souls are made for action and movement. A Lenten discipline is a test track, a proving ground for the soul to reach its capacity.
For the rest of Lent, let the brake off and ease into drive. Don’t race the engine, but gradually increase the speed, the intensity of the spiritual effort. Lent won’t seem so boring, and we can make it to a fuller capacity, if not a wide open throttle, by Pascha.
Ultimately the biggest difference between “big bore” and “full bore” in Lent simply depends on the effort we put into it.