I ask your forgiveness, dear readers. I have been guilty of spreading a misunderstanding.
I'm very fond of saying that the word 'repent' comes from the Latin prefix re- meaning again, and peneso, meaning to think, and that it means that we are called to think again. I've expounded on this theme at some length in various places.
I'm quite wrong.
'Repent' comes from the latin Re- meaning again, and poenitere, meaning "be penitent" or "be sorry". It is directly related to 'penal', meaning punishment. So, not a call to examine your life, beyond the call that you've really messed up, and you need to get yourself right with God. You've broken the rules, and you need to accept your punishment with a glad heart for the correction. Mea Culpa, my fault.
And yet, I'm not wrong.
When I saw this, I was of course mightily embarrassed. And I was highly curious, because I'm a Johannite, and as such John the Baptist is of great import to me. He uses the term Repent, and so it's one of those words that I should be able to use quite a bit, something I should exhort people to do as well, as long as I use it properly. So I went back to the Greek versions of the gospels, which tell about John the Baptist, especially where he calls for us to repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand (Matthew 3:2). And the Greek word that John the Baptist is supposed to have used is Μετανοεῖτε, metanoiete.
Μετανοεῖτε is translated in the Vulgate as Pœnitentiam agite, and so back to poenitere, and Repent as punishment. However, I found out that Erasmus translates it as resipiscite, which is much closer to what I was originially thinking, along the lines of 'to change one's mind' and also, 'to recover one's senses'.
So, why the language lesson?
For Gnostics, Lent can be problematic. We don't generally see sin as the major issue, but rather ignorance of who we are, why we're here, and where we're going cause most of the issues we encounter. The fact that we are ignorant of our divine heritage is the issue of the fall, not the sin of pride or the original sin of pursuing that which God does not want us to. So, what do we have to repent of? Why should we be sorry, if our mistakes take us out of ignorance and into the light?
However, the idea of 'repent' as changing one's mind instead of being penitent has great meaning. If we repent, if we think about our status, if we change our mind, recover our senses, we can examine our lives and make the changes in them that we need to step out of ignorance.
And that is what this season is about. It is about self examination. It is about knowing yourself, that famous Greek maxim over the temple at Delphi. It is about looking at not only what we've done, but at what we do in our lives. How we live from day to day, what we spend our energies on, and how that affects our lives on a physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual level.
Fasting generally accompanies Lent. I always try to fast in some way, to 'give something up'. And the reason why is that by doing so, I'm constantly thinking about the place that 'given up' action or item has in my life. For instance, if I give up sugar for Lent, for 40 days I have to consider what has sugar, what am I eating, why am I eating it or desiring it? Is it because I'm hungry, or because I'm bored, or because it's there?
Why are we examining our lives at all? What good does it do us to spend the time doing this, rather than something external, like working at a homeless shelter or a soup kitchen? What's the value of this seeming navel-gazing?
This consideration, this rethinking and coming to one's senses, is valuable because it is a time to cultivate space for the Light to come in, which is symbolized by the Easter Resurrection. When the Light illuminates us, will be we able to confront what we see? Will what shines in our souls and in our lives cause us to rejoice and be thankful for who we are and what we have become? Or will that light expose things which will go scuttling for the dark again?
So, Lent is a time of repentance. It is a time to change one's mind, change one's habits, and recover one's senses. To put aside illusions and misconceptions, and get to the heart of the matter. To put aside that which is inessential, and know that which is essential.
Repent. For the Kingdom of God is at hand.