Webster's Third New International Dictionary describes it as "a period of penitence and fasting observed on the 40 week days from Ash Wednesday to Easter."
World Book Encyclopedia calls Lent "a religious season observed . . . by Christian churches . . . as a time of spiritual discipline and renewal. . . . The number 40 recalls Jesus' 40-day fast in the wilderness . . . (which) was set at 40 days in the A.D. 600s."
Is this all that Lent is about? Is this how clergy and worshipers recognize Lent in today's Christian world?
Ferdinand G. Mahfood, lay minister and founder of Food for the Poor in Deerfield Beach, offers another illustration.
Mahfood says Lent is "a time for prayer and reconciliation between God, others and the world. It can be a long 40 days. Or it can be a fulfilling experience."
The "fulfilling experience" is what many modern-day clergy and congregations seem to be seeking.
The Rev. William J. Oakley, pastor of Mariner United Methodist Church in Spring Hill, said, "We encourage folks not to just give up something . . . but maybe even taking something on, some ministry or activity that will help them grow and not just thinking of (one's self)."
The Rev. Raymond Dage, pastor of St. John's Episcopal Church in Brooksville, points out that the rhythm of life today is much faster than in previous ages, and that God does not always get enough time.
"The (Lenten) experience should be to step aside and examine our lives and our consciences and to become aware of the presence of God in our lives," he said.
Peggie Robishaw, a St. John's parishioner, said the Lenten season is different from the rest of the year for her, but is not a time when she gives up something. "As I grow older there are so many restrictions on my diet and time, that I would rather take on something that I normally wouldn't do," Robishaw said.
This year, Robishaw is helping to start Bible study sessions at Heartland Nursing Home in Brooksville. "We want to bring a bright ray of Christian sunshine into their (residents') lives," she said.
Not all Christian denominations practice the customs of the Lenten season. The Rev. Greg Champagne, pastor of First Baptist Church of Brooksville, said most Baptist churches, including his congregation, do not observe Lent because Baptist churches are not liturgically structured.
Unlike some other Christian denominations, Baptists have no set hierarchy dictating how they pay religious homage. Therefore, they are not confined to any prescribed forms of ritual for public worship.
"We are a free church in that each local congregation is autonomous," Champagne said.
The Rev. Jerry Waugh, pastor of Northcliffe Baptist Church in Spring Hill, said his congregation does not participate in Lent either. "We do respect the (Lenten) season and the practice of it, and are in no way critical," Waugh said. "But our focus is on the cross and the empty tomb.
"(Lent) is a man-created tradition," Waugh said, "not a biblical command."
Champagne agrees. "Primarily our focus is toward Easter," he said.
The Rev. David A. Banks, pastor of St. Frances Cabrini Catholic Church in Spring Hill, said Roman Catholics today take more of a positive approach to Lent, rather than one of giving up something such as candy for children or smoking for adults.
"(Lent) is a time of preparation (for) what more we can do for our own faith and our own relationship with God," Banks said. He said it's a time when parishioners go out of their way to do more.
William Clarke, a parishioner of St. Andrew's Episcopal Church in Spring Hill, described Lent as something one does that corresponds with the suffering of Christ. "Since Christ died and gave of himself," Clarke said, "(we) should do something of like. Not as severe," he said, "but one should sacrifice something."
Clarke says Lent is a kind of renewal of faith and beliefs.
When Oakley discusses Lent with his congregation, he describes it as the past tense of the verb "to lend" or "to loan."
He compares Lent to stewardship "in that we are lent our life and our resources by God." He said to be a good steward, people must use resources wisely: "To love your neighbor and respect God and observe Lent is to be a good steward."
JoDee Brandhuber, a member of First United Methodist Church in Brooksville, agrees. She said this year she is doing things a little differently. Instead of giving up something, Brandhuber said, "I'm trying to incorporate something (into my life). I'm trying to remember to increase my prayer life."
She said there are many things in her life to be thankful for that she tries to "remember to say thank you to my Savior and take that extra time to say "hi' to my neighbor."
"Instead of just repenting, I also want to rejoice."