Sunday, February 22, 2009

Famines and Feasts…

What are you giving up? You know, for Lent I mean. It’s like the Christian version of New Year’s Resolutions, but so much more hopeful. Not just because it ends with Jesus overcoming death and all that, but because we know there’s an end date. A stopping point. A return to life as we’ve done it thus far, which isn’t really the case with New Year’s Resolutions (though I suspect that’s not the point anyway). Still, it’s easier, I surmise, to give something up for Lent, since we know it’s just a temporary imposition in the first place.

Or perhaps, instead of ‘give something up,’ as is typically said, I should say ‘alter your routine.’ Maybe you’ve heard of the recent amendment to this tradition; some folk don’t abstain from something during Lent. Instead, they ‘take something up,’ they add an activity to supplement life as we’ve lived it with a temporary practice of everyday holiness. For some, that takes the form of additional prayer each morning, for their family perhaps, or for something they’ve not been praying for already, like justice in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, or discernment to confront the threat of global warming. Others will find a book for daily Lent devotionals. Last year I read Practicing Our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People (ask the Servant Leaders about it; we read it together during my first couple months here at Plymouth Creek). This year, I’ll join others in the church by reading Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living for a few minutes each day. Or you could take a ‘prayer walk’ around the block, for a mix of exercise spiritual and physical. Or read through the four Gospels before Easter. Or journal your daily adventures with a prayerful touch each night. You get the picture.

I think people have reverted to this ‘alternate tradition’ because the original idea, abstaining from normal activities, carries such negative undertones. Sometimes that’s the result of a misunderstanding- that people should use Lent to rid themselves of sin. So let’s be clear: you don’t give up doing bad things for Lent. It’s not meant to be a spiritual crutch (although, if it takes Lent to help you overcome nasty habits, then go for it). Rather, it’s a chance to replace something you enjoy with space to remember your first love, the God of all who loves all. Sometimes, the aversion to ‘giving things up’ is a critique of negative spirituality, i.e. folk are rightly skeptical of any spiritual understanding that treats our bodies and desires as evil in of themselves. So they avoid spiritual practices that encourage finding God through less, preferring an understanding of God that encourages more and more ‘life abundant’ (John 10:10). But whatever the case, I think that a ‘both and’ approach to this unique Christian tradition is worthwhile. Give something up, take something up, make your pick.

After all, in the life of Christian discipleship, it’s always good to be on the lookout for faithfulness, for the chance to take a further step in learning about God, approaching God, coloring your routine with God’s justice and mercy. We do that Sunday after Sunday, I hope. But one day a week doesn’t a disciple make, as we know. So, through the wisdom of saints who came before us, the Christian tradition proposes that each year we try jump starting our lives with a season of reflection. It doesn’t have to mean doing Lent as folk have always done it (like giving up red meat on Fridays, or coffee in the morning). Some people are practicing a ‘carbon fast’ this year; they’re cutting out parts of their routine that unnecessarily produce carbon emissions, like vegetables grown overseas, or plastic water bottles. In other words, they’re using this season to reflect more fully on how God calls them, in this day and age, to pattern life as faithfully as possible. You don’t have to tell anyone, of course. Lent doesn’t require you shout your witness from the mountaintop. But if you’ve never practiced Lent, or if it’s been awhile, think about maybe participating this year. Regardless what happens, I can guarantee it has ‘adventure’ written all over it. In all things,

Grace and Peace,


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