I had intended to post this reflection on Ash Wednesday to launch a series of Lenten reflections offered by some of the leaders of EcoFaith Recovery. Unfortunately some technological challenges got in my way. It is nonetheless my privilege to take the first step on that journey with you now.
Those of us who grew up attending church may recall “giving up something for Lent.” A friend whose grandmother encouraged her to give up sugar during Lent recalls hearing her grandma say, “Jesus gave up his life for your sins; the least you could do is give up chocolate!”
That is certainly one way to think about Lent and sin. However, in Isaiah 58:1-12 (one of yesterday’s Ash Wednesday readings), when God declares, “Announce to my people their rebellion, to the house of Jacob their sins, it is not the failure to give up sweets that is condemned. As Biblical scholar Walter Brueggemann puts it (in his book Isaiah 40-66), the rebellion and sin described here is “life organized in resistance to the purposes of Yahweh. Yahweh/God’s voice is heard to offer a vision of a different kind of spiritual fasting saying, “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? According to Brueggemann, “the violation of Yahweh’s intent concerns a lack of neighborly economics. He goes onto say that our society’s preoccupation with individual autonomy does not ultimately achieve our desired well-being or our deepest delight. Rather, “the neighbor is not a detraction or an inconvenience but is the currency through which community with Yahweh is on offer.”
The Lenten devotions that will be offered by EcoFaith leaders through this blog will be invitations to consider how we might enter into deeper spiritual recovery. Such recovery includes our personal spiritual practices and theological imaginations. But it also includes the spiritual practices of our economic and political lives. In that sense, this may not be your grandmother’s Lenten devotional! These devotions will be invitations to reflect upon the ways in which we “hide ourselves from our own kin and how we might, in the words of the prophet Isaiah, allow God to “guide [us] continually, and satisfy [our] needs in parched places” so that we “shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail, so that we “shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.
Although I did not learn from my grandmother to make such connections between faith and my political-economic life or my broader theological imagination, the faith of my grandmother still serves me by its recognition that a season of self-examination can be good for the soul. Entering into self-examination around the personal, societal, economic, political, and even theological patterns that once seemed to serve us and our ancestors can reveal some great harms that certain practices are inflicting upon our families, our local and global neighbors, and an overwhelming number of other species with whom our lives are intertwined. As a friend in recovery from addiction once said, “My coping mechanisms are killing me! Is it possible that one of the many messages revealed to us in the cross of Christ is the ways in which our coping mechanisms can and do kill, not only individually but through our collective ways of life? When faced with the truth that carbon emissions from my car and investments in my retirement fund are dealing-death to people and other forms of life all over the world, am I any more able to imagine resurrection to new life now than the disciples were back then?
Ash Wednesday is a wake up call reminding me that God still calls, not only individuals, but entire peoples to enter into spiritual recovery when our ways of life are not life-giving for the whole. New life is still possible when denial breaks and the deeper values of God come back into view.
For those of us whose faith has been formed by an encounter with a Jewish rabbi named Jesus – one who consistently saw as “kin” those whom others did not – there is still another way available to us. On that point, I am sure even Grandma would agree.
p.s. If you click the link in the upper left sidebar of any page at test.ecofaithrecovery.org, you can sign up to receive these Lenten reflections and subsequent blog posts directly to your email account. We welcome you to share them with others.