Image: Ash Wednesday © Jan L. Richardson
I’m not big on giving things up. In fact, I’m not big into any kind of self-denial. Today, when I had back to back meetings and became consumed with some writing and work and so skipped lunch accidentally, I also became angry and mean and anxious. My accidental fast made me not more aware but more of an awful person. I’ve always know I’d never make a good Catholic, and perhaps some might argue my ineptitude at self-denial makes me a kind of lousy Christian.
They might be right.
In my defense, I have that William Sloane Coffin quote on my email “The joy that is of God is no escape from reality but rather infuses earthly pleasures of all kinds – with a foundation of meaning.” Originally Coffin included a list of those pleasures – music, eating, drinking… It has always struck me that God created the world and called it ‘good’ so why would God want us to deny ourselves those good things?
Any faithful believer would and should point out to me that self-denial for the purpose of self-denial is not the point – instead the point is that denial makes us aware of something important. That is to say, denying chocolate is one way some people remind themselves to think of, and rely upon, God during Lent. Each time they crave it, each time they reach for that Cadbury Egg or look at that molten lava chocolate cake on the dessert menu, they also think of God, the suffering that Jesus undertook for them, and swallow their saliva along with a prayer.
Even better, many deny themselves things in Lent as an act of solidarity. One friend tweeted today this question, “What would happen if I gave up all meat at lunch and all but fish on Wednesdays and Fridays for dinner during Lent, as an act of solidarity?” Next tweet: “For me, this is only a Lenten discipline if it makes me more aware of the heart of God for the poor…”
The question and suggestion is a good one – that is, what are ways that we might make ourselves more aware of the lost and broken, the poor and forsaken during this lenten season? Could we give up a bag of canned goods each week, or a can a day? Could we eat a simple meal once a week – of rice and beans (the main dish of >>>% of the worlds population)? Could we use less resources, like water or electricity? The Presbyterian Church’s environmental ministries page has a “Tread Lightly For Lent” initiative, which includes a downloadable Lenten Calendar (like an advent calendar) which guides us to be mindful each day of the ways in which our actions directly affect the planet. It is a way to seek justice to live in solidarity with the poor, and to be mindful of God’s call upon each of us to walk in the ways of Christ in all moments of every day.
I think I might try to “Tread Lightly” this year. But I also might do some of these other things as well. Eat simply. Pray daily. Write and Blog at least 3 times a week. Engage my faith in a way that helps me to be mindful of my actions, and propels me towards Christ. How about you? What will you ‘take on’ or ‘give up’ for Lent? For whom will you pray or act justly? How will you let your life be transformed, re-formed, on this journey to the cross and the empty tomb?
In all your journeys, I leave you with this prayer from a worshipbook out of the Iona community called, ‘Eggs and Ashes, by Ruth Burgess and Chris Polhill
A Time of turning around
Truly dust we are, and to dust we shall return;
and truly yours we are, and to you we shall return.
Help this to be a time of turning round and beginning again.
Through the forty days of Lent,
help us to follow youand to find you:
in the discipline of praying and in the drudgery of caring
in whatever we deny ourselves,
and whatever we set ourselves to learn or do.
Help us to discover you
in our loneliness and in community,
in our emptiness and our fulfilment,
in our sadness and our laughter.
Help us to find you when we ourselves are lost.
Help us to follow you on the journey to Jerusalem
to the waving palms of the peoples hope,
to their rejection, to the cross and empty tomb.
Help us to perceive new growth amid the ashes of the old.
Help us, following Christ, to be signs of your Kingdom. AMEN