What are you giving up for Lent?
This is a question that comes easily to our lips, at least in the Western Church as in some ways we have trivialized Lent. We have reduced it to the idea of going without something – usually an indulgence like chocolate – and we think this will bring us closer to God.
Among the plethora of comments by our church leaders as we embark on our Lenten Journey are these:
“Indifference to our neighbour and to God represents a real temptation for us Christians. Each year during Lent we need to hear once more the voice of the prophets who cry out and trouble our conscience.”
With these words, Pope Francis is challenging all Christians, but I think especially those of us in the West, about their indifference to others in need. “We end up being incapable of feeling compassion at the outcry of the poor, weeping for other people’s pain, and feeling a need to help them, as though all this was someone else’s responsibility,” he says.
Naomi Klein in her recent book “This Changes Everything” puts it this way. We see – and then we look away, and in looking away we try to act is as if we did not see. But if we were to see and not look away – this is what would change everything.
We have all done this. You are walking in the city and see a person sitting on the pavement with a cardboard sign begging because they are homeless. We look away and carry on walking as if that person was not there. I know I have done that!
We have become used to the idea that most social problems are too big for any little thing we might be able to do to make much of a difference that we have become indifferent.
During Lent, most of us do understand the idea that we use this time for reflection on how we have been travelling as a disciple of Christ – not for the purpose of belting ourselves up for our failings; rather so that we can get back into the ways we know we should be.
So we might spend more time in our morning or evening prayers. We might participate in the Lenten and Easter Study. We might embark on some completely new spiritual practice as an expression of our commitment to following in the Way of Jesus.
And I want to encourage you in these things.
But I have a warning.
Jim Wallis in his blog this week was reminded of a quote from the early Church Father, John Chrysostom, who said:
“No act of virtue can be great if it is not followed by advantage for others. So no matter how much time you spend fasting, no matter how much you sleep on a hard floor and eat ashes and sigh continually, if you do no good for others, then you do nothing great.”
In other words all of our spiritual activities must genuinely lead to the enhancement of other’s lives. If they don’t, then they are an expression of indifference.
This seems to suggest to me that we need to build in a practical dimension to our Lenten disciplines that will help deal with our indifference.
So, if you were to choose to “go without indifference” this Lent I wonder what it might look like.
I can’t be prescriptive about this, but I can lay down a challenge to see what it would be like for you. You know what it is that you look away from after you see it. What would it be that you need to not look away from – so that you see it really?
· Extra volunteering.
· Money for a charity.
· Discarding useful clutter from your house to an op-shop.
Whatever it is for you – make that your Lenten Discipline.
I am indebted to Jim Wallis' blog dated 11 February for the inspiration of these thoughts.