Invitation to a Holy Lent

The Rev. April Berends

As we near the end of the first week of Lent, CRE contributor April Berends invites us to consider some of the ecological implications of the season.

Invitation to a Holy Lent

Dear Friends,

February 22nd, Ash Wednesday, begins the Season of Lent. As part of the Ash Wednesday liturgy, the presider says, “I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance; by prayer, fasting and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.” (Book of Common Prayer p.265).

Even before we begin this season, many of us are already feeling pretty ashen. War continues to wage in Ukraine, claiming lives and unsettling the powers of the world.  An earthquake recently killed tens of thousands in Syria and Turkey. Here Tennessee, a number of bills that harm LGBTQ+ communities are making their way through the state legislature, signifying the rejection of God’s created goodness in every human being. We have weathered three years of a pandemic that has claimed over a million lives in the U.S. alone, and “normal” has been slow in coming for many of us. Over the last 36 months, we have committed the bodies of many beloved saints to the earth and to God’s eternal care, “ashes to ashes and dust to dust.” The effects of climate change and environmental degradation keep compounding.  The daffodils in the churchyard started blooming in January, a deceptively cheerful reminder of the planet’s warming.

 Traditionally, Lent is a time for taking stock of our lives, the occasion for a spring cleaning of sorts.  The word, “Lent” comes from the Old English lencten, a reference to the lengthening of days that comes with springtime. I love it that in a season in which we contemplate our mortality and our sinfulness, signs of resurrection surround us at every turn.

This Lent, in particular, I am mindful that the word, “repentance,” as it is used in scripture, means to “to turn.” So this Lent, I am considering practices that help me turn from those things that separate me from God’s creative goodness, from my neighbors, and from this fragile earth. I am thinking about ways that we might, in acknowledging our failures and our sin, turn again to God’s goodness and take up the work of healing, mending, and being made new.

If you haven’t settled on a way to mark this season, and you’d like a little nudge, here are a few suggestions for observing Lent this year.  Please don’t try to take on all of them at once.  Pick one or a few, or something else altogether. 

  • Make one phone call or send one note each day to someone who might need a reminder of their belovedness.
  • Read banned books. Donate banned books to school libraries or free libraries in your town.
  • Spend a half an hour a couple of times per week picking up litter in your neighborhood or around your work place.  If you live or work in relatively litter-free area, pick up litter in a city park, riverbank, or another public space.
  • Reduce plastic waste when it comes to purchasing groceries. Your neighborhood farmers’ market is a good place to start.
  • Write a short poem or prayer, or make a little piece of art, each day.
  • Make one improvement to your home to reduce environmental impact (change out lightbulbs for LEDs, add weather stripping to windows or doors, add a solar panel, etc.)
  • See if you can make it through Lent without purchasing anything new besides food, medicine or necessary health and hygiene items.
  • Take the season of Lent to learn about one local issue (affordable housing, education, fair labor, healthcare, environmental degradation, etc.) that affects neighbors or land in your area.  Start a conversation about this issue with your friends, or within your congregation. Make a list of action items and a plan to begin working on them.
  • Explore a different area hike or nature center every week. 
  • Spend time outside each day simply noticing—the natural world, the un-natural world, the ways people and creatures move through spaces. Keep a journal or photo-journal of what you notice.
  • Invite a child in your life to teach you about something that they love. 
  • Eat less meat, or no meat at all.  Explore vegetarian recipes from other cultures.
  • Read the lectionary texts for each day of Lent.  Pick one to memorize each week, and carry it in your heart.
  • Tithe on your grocery bills, donating nonperishable foods amounting to 10% of the total each week to a pantry in your area, or simply making a donation to a local food bank.
  • Commit to learning about a facet of God’s creation that you have not explored before. 
  • Invite someone new to join you for an outdoor activity that brings you joy.
  • Fast from social media, or commit to using your social media accounts for a specific, constructive purpose during the Season of Lent.
  • Give your home a good spring cleaning, and donate items you no longer need that are in good condition to a Habitat for Humanity Restore, an organization that provides housing for refugees or returning citizens, or give them to someone in your neighborhood buy-nothing group. 
  • Trace the sign of the cross on your forehead before you go to bed at night and when you wake up in the morning.  Remember that you are dust.  Remember that you are beloved.

May God bless you in this Lenten season as you seek to turn again toward God’s goodness and grace.

Published by Andrew Thompson

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