I like the idea of Lent. While it is one of the oldest observations of the Christian Church, it seems particularly helpful for our very busy and very full modern lives.
The idea behind Lent is to take a look at our lives, to do an honest assessment of our journey to/toward/with God and to repent of the things that are distancing us from God – to turn away from those things. Considering how many things we have in our lives today, the distractions, the obstacles, that get between us and our ability to follow the teachings of Jesus, I just can't help but think that Lent may actually be more needed now than it has ever been.
But I also have to say, I dread THAT question. You know the one. It pops up about this time every year. Say it with me, “What did you give up for Lent?” Ugghh.
It has almost become a benchmark of righteousness.
“I gave up alcohol.”
“Oh. Well, I used to give up alcohol, but it was too easy. So, I'm also giving up meat and television.”
At times, it feels like a one-upsmanship of devotion. “I'll see your night-time glass of red wine and raise you red meat and the bliss of zoning out to American Idol.”
I know this game so well because I fell into that Lent trap many years ago. It just feels so right, so normal, so … self-righteously-holy. It got to the point one year that, and I kid you not, I gave up all beverages other than water, all meat, TV (except for the NCAA tournament – a boy's got his limits), sweets (except for my Birthday Cake – c'mon, it's my birthday!), late night snacks (even ones of the non-sweet persuasion), and I added daily exercise and daily devotions, increased my giving to charities and told at least one person a day how good they were at what they do.
Why so much? Well, I'd been giving up and adding things to my life during Lent for quite awhile. It was my understanding that a big part of doing it was to identify with the sacrifice that Jesus made for us (you know, atonement theology stuff). Each year the “giving up stuff” was easier and easier, and just felt like it wasn't much of a sacrifice. So, I went from easy things, to harder things, to adding as many harder things together as possible, in order to feel the sacrifice. (I actually did give up the NCAA tournament one year... AND my birthday cake – you have no idea how much I love cake).
Upon reflection and in all honesty, I think part of giving all that stuff up was also so that when THAT question was asked, even if I didn't “win” the righteousness game, I would at least finish strong.
Then one year for Lent, I gave up... Lent.
Good and gracious God,
2010 was not the year we hoped it to be.
Before we begin this new year
remind us that we should never be satisfied
with any year.
Remind us that the pursuit
of heaven on earth should always be our goal.
Remind us that while that goal
always seems to be just beyond our reach,
we are called to reach for it none-the-less.
Remind us that when our arms
seem to be about to fall out of their sockets
because we must stretch ourselves so far
to reach and pull this planet toward
your peaceable kin-dom here on Earth...
Remind us that you are with us,
that you will strengthen us,
that you still call us...
to a better,
May 2011 be a year of blessings.
Not necessarily on ourselves,
but on those in need.
Far too many people come into the new year
eating black-eyed peas and leafy greens
as a way to bring about prosperity -
failing to recognize the abundance
you have already planted in their lives.
In this false sense of lacking,
all too frequently, we find ourselves
holding back from giving as freely
as you call us to do.
May 2011 be a year of blessings.
May we recognize the blessings we have,
and share so abundantly of them
that others, whose lives might be truly lacking,
may more fully know the abundance
and blessings of your creation,
and the extent of your graciousness.
Far too many in this world,
lack the basics of life.
Basics that should be considered human rights.
In 2011 may we open our eyes to the connectedness of life.
By your design, in the words of Dr. King,
“We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality...”
which means “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
Far too many suffer from the injustice
of not having their basic needs met,
their fundamental human rights met;
a roof under which to sleep,
access to heath care,
the right to be treated with dignity,
the right to be treated equally,
freedom from slavery,
freedom from discrimination,
access to education,
the pursuit of happiness.
Help us to not only recognize these rights,
but to recognize that when any lack in them,
it is a threat to all of your Creation.
Encourage us to pursue access for all people
to these basic human rights...
May we “not be satisfied
until justice rolls down like waters
like a mighty stream.”
God of all wisdom,
guide us in 2011,
for we have lost our way.
In the fundamentalism of this world,
we have lost sight of the fundamentals of
who you call us to be
and the fundamentals of a peaceable kin-dom realized.
Call us back from our Earthly desires of
power, prestige and self-promotion
and return us to the pursuit of
the Divine image in whose likeness we were formed.
May 2011 be the year of our pursuit of
May 2011 be the year of our earnest pursuit of