The season of Lent is upon us. The forty-day period before Easter offers Christians pause to reflect on our spirituality and take an inventory of our lives. Why forty days? The number forty is derived from the traditional forty days that Jesus spent in the wilderness at the beginning of his ministry. Lent has traditionally been associated with self-denial, fasting, and penitence.
Have you ever wondered why purple is the traditional color for Lent? It was the color of royalty, wealth, status and power – that much I learned from my Bible dictionaries. But why it’s the color of Lent was still a mystery to me, so I consulted Alice Walker’s book, The Color Purple, to see if it might offer a clue. It’s rather interesting to see how she uses the color. There are several passages where purple is mentioned.
One is where Celie, this poor rural black woman with a terrible self-image, oppressed by society, and especially by men, meets a woman named Shug, who is proud, and free, and beautiful, and loving, and life-affirming. Celie falls in love with Shug. She adores and venerates her. Shug gently leads Celie out of her imprisonment, her self-imposed bondage, and frees her. In one scene Celie envisions Shug, her redeemer, dressed in purple.
In another scene Shug is talking to Celie about God:
“I think it [ticks] God off if you walk by the color purple in a field somewhere and don’t notice it. God made the color purple to please us, just to be beautiful. Most people think that our purpose in life is to please God, but God is trying to please us. That’s why God made the color purple”
It’s customary to give up something for Lent. I don’t want to take that away from anyone who is really looking forward to a wonderful season of suffering! But let me suggest Lent need not be a time when we carry our little crosses. Maybe we could use the season as a time of intentional reflection to see the world in a new way. To see “God in all things and all things in God,” as the mystic put it. To see “Christ on the face of each other,” as the contemporary gospel song puts it. To see how “God is trying to please us.” Call it forty days of wonder. Life-affirming, Spirit-infused wonder. Or, if you prefer, you could always give up chocolate.