Ash Wednesday is tomorrow, which means we are on the cusp of another Lenten season. I love Lent, not least because it's the one time in the church year that I take more time and make more effort to tend to my relationship with God and my relationships with other people--and the whole world. I was going to say "tend to my spiritual life," but I think that language sends the wrong message: like Lent is first and foremost about me, and my personal prayer life or church attendance or Bible reading. Don't get me wrong--those things are fine, but I don't think they are the point of Lent: at least, not in isolation.
I'm comparing it to what happens in the new year: everyone makes resolutions [Lose weight! Eat more vegetables! Get out more! Stop smoking!] that are typically focused on making them a "better person." That's fine, of course, but I don't think that's a helpful way to think about Lent: like it's a time to work on things that will make you a "better Christian." I guess it's this word "better" that I'm resisting.
So, what is the word then? What am I hoping for with my Lenten disciplines? What is the adjective I hope to be able to apply to myself when Easter finally arrives? I'm sure there are lots of good options, but at least for now, I'm settling on "connected." Lent, for me, is a time to really root myself deeply in my life with God, and grow out of those roots into deeper and more loving relationships with others. Sometimes I think we use the season of Lent as an excuse to turn inward, to the detriment of the world around us, as though our relationship with God is entirely unconnected to our relationships with others. That is, of course, a fallacy. The most rewarding Lenten practices are those that open us up to the powerful work of the Holy Spirit, who calls us into strengthened and renewed life in and with others. The fact is, our spiritual disciplines aren't designed to elevate us above others, making us "better Christians," but rather strengthen us for life with others, making our whole shared life together "better."
So, here's an example. Tomorrow, I begin Lent by joining the LTSG community--and the larger LWF community [Lutheran World Federation]--in a fast for the climate. I don't usually make a public statement about fasting [the temptation of the Pharisee lurking and all....], but this time, I am, because the point of this fast is to call attention to all those who are suffering because of climate change [including, of course the earth itself and all earth's creatures]. Many are now having a harder and harder time finding food [polar bears and walruses, I'm thinking of you], and many are struggling more regularly with climate extremes. Going without food for the day reminds me to keep my eyes on them, my heart with them, and my prayers for them; and the money from the food I won't eat that day is going to charity. [And, not just that day, but every Lenten fast day].
I don't know what you are giving up or taking on for Lent this year, but whatever it is, I hope it helps you fix your mind on your neighbor, the one whom Christ loves, just as he loves you.