I have often said that I don’t believe Lent is a time to give things up as much as it’s a time to take things on…new disciplines, new perspectives, new means of finding God’s purpose unfolding in our lives.
I think this because there is always one question that plagues me as a 21st century Christian person in the most affluent country in the west. What do the poor give up for Lent?
It is such a privilege to take on the “giving up of things.” We talk about giving up chocolate, carbon fasting, removing meats and sweets and other over-indulgences. Setting aside social media, or news, or other distractions. But to what end?
What of the poor? The unhoused and the destitute? What do they give up, these who have so little?
We talk about Lent as a time for keeping an eye on our own mortality. How many people will die before you’re finished reading this? How many people will die during the weeks of Lent from preventable diseases, from wars of choice, from climate disaster or from the dangers of living on the streets? What responsibility do we have for the fact that this is so?
What a petty thing it seems to remember we are but dust and that we return to it without pausing to think of those who will die before the ashes have been drawn on your forehead. Some in your very own city.
Lent is a time to remember. To take up the work of solidarity with the poor and the oppressed. And I think this is better accomplished not by giving things up, but by remembering with every bite of food those who are hungry. Remembering every time you walk into your home or out of it that there are countless others who have no home to call their own. Remembering each time your head hits the pillow to recall those who will not wake up tomorrow morning. To remember that “giving up” is a privilege, but that taking on is about sharing the burdens of the world’s most marginalized and cast away. It is about taking the needs and concerns of the poor into our very own hearts.
What can you “take on” that will make you mindful of the burdens borne by the poor and marginalized? What ways can you engage with new perspectives that draw you closer during the Lenten season to the least of these - wherein you may seek and serve Christ?
Tomorrow we will get ashes on our foreheads as a means of marking our own mortality. These ashes are traditionally made by the burning of palm branches from the previous year’s Palm Sunday. But, I prefer to remember instead that the ashes we receive are made from the bones of the dead. And the remnants of stars. And the dreams of those long buried beneath us. I don’t want ashes to remind me of my death…I know that new beginning will come in its own time. I want them to remind me that there are those - here and now - whose lives and deaths can be made more bearable by my showing up in their poverty and destitution and speaking a good word; offering food, shelter or clothing; or merely by letting them know that God has not forgotten about them in their pain.
We all stumble toward death. It is perhaps knowing that we do it together rather than in our isolated selves that the true fast of Lent may have meaning for us. At least, that is my hope