Thursday, February 18, 2010

Lenten Practices 2010

Lent is still a new thing for me. I didn't grow up observing it--or even really aware that it existed. Our church went from Christmas Eve to Palm Sunday with nothing special in between (or so it seemed to me). A few years ago, once I moved to NYC, I was worshiping at a church which encouraged members to add a spiritual practice during Lent rather than give something up. I liked that idea, and wanted more practice praying, so I started a daily prayer time.

In other years, I've given up television (allowed me time to read a thick novel while in my last semester of seminary) and the word "should."

This year, it took me a long time to figure out what I was going to do. In fact, I didn't know for sure until I was in the middle of the 7am Ash Wednesday service I was leading.

I'd just finished reading Isaiah 58:1-12:

Shout out! Do not hold back! Lift up your voice like a trumpet! Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins. Yet day after day they seek me and delight to know my ways, as if they were a nation that practiced righteousness and did not forsake the ordinance of their God; They ask of me righteous judgments, they delight to draw near to God. "Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice?" Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you to today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? They your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the LORD shall be your rear guard. Then you shall call, and the LORD will answer; you shall cry for help, and God will say, Here I am. If you remove the yoke from among you, the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil, if you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom be like the noonday. The LORD will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong; and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail. Your ancient ruins shall be rebuilt; you shall raise up the foundations of many generations; you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.

I sat down with my congregants to reflect on the words, and they were just pounding in my heart. I knew that giving up my second cup of coffee every afternoon--what I'd been considering for my Lenten practice--was NOT what God was calling me to do!

By mid-afternoon, I'd figured most of it out. I'd take this Lent to focus on gratitude. It is the theme for our church's weekly Lenten activities, and something I've been thinking about a lot in the midst of some devastating realities going on around me: the 22-mo-old daughter of a friend being diagnosed with cancer, another little girl fighting a brain tumor, and the earthquake in Haiti. Gratitude seems like something that should be abundant in my life. So for Lent I decided to stop and give thanks for all food and drink I consume, and keep a gratitude journal with at least five things every day for which I am grateful.

Then, this morning, that Isaiah passage was bugging me again. The words I'd spoken to the people gathered at my evening service haunted me:
Let it be an impetus to live our lives as fully as God intends, not only in self-serving and self-fulfilling ways but in a manner that looses the bonds of injustice, that breaks the yokes of oppression, that offers food to the hungry, homes to the homeless, clothes to the naked and satisfies the needs of the afflicted.
I'd said it myself. Making myself feel good by being grateful for all my blessings wasn't enough if I didn't then act to try and offer everyone access to those blessings. God doesn't want me to simply humble myself in gratitude for my warm, safe bed. No, God wants me to ask why others sleep on concrete and cardboard and mud and trash. God wants me to get them warm, safe beds too!

So in addition to giving thanks for nourishment and being grateful for five things every day, I'm going to "fast" for justice a little. I'm giving a set, small amount of money away every day for mission/justice/humanitarian work. It's not a lot, but it's enough to make me pay attention to my spending for 40 days. And it certainly won't put me on the VIP donor list for any of these organizations, but it's something.

Yesterday's money went to the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption, one of my favorite organizations. Today's money went to the UCC's Haiti Earthquake Fund.

So...what are you doing for Lent?

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1 comment:

  1. This is great and inspirational. Thanks for sharing it! I feel like this season gives me the opportunity to grow through rather than try to live up to goals I set 8 days ago.