I did not grow up observing Lent. I knew “those other Christians” gave up their favorite things during Lent, which made me feel sad for them. Lent seemed like a somber and strange ritual Christians did before flipping a switch and suddenly becoming happy at Easter. I thought it was all confusing.
Only after seminary, when I spent time in Israel/Palestine living in the rhythms of life paired with regular seasons of fasting and feasting, did I recognize the beauty of Lent. Now I see this season as an opportunity to disrupt my tendency to put life on autopilot. Lent is when I pause and, with great intentionality, shed old habits and maybe form some new ones.
Traditionally, we think of Lent as the 40 days before Easter when Christians focused on repentance, penitence, and preparation. It is a time of purposeful prayer, fasting, and generosity. Instead of fasting for a meal, some people “give up” a food group (i.e. meat) or a habit (i.e. checking social media). The disruption enables people not only to enter into the suffering of Jesus but also to reveal personal habits that need to change. Generosity can be expressed in sacrificial giving and also in mindfully sharing time, energy, and resources with others.
During this Lenten season, I’d like to invite you to join me in giving up (fasting from) the instinct to speak first. Then, with gratitude, let’s allow those who are different from us to lead us in prayer. Here are some resources that may help you with this. As Michael S. Chen said during during a recent gathering of “The Art of Hard Conversations” on race, we want to ask, “Are we willing to surrender authority to people who don’t look like us?”
As we purposefully listen to those who speak of God with different voices, we open ourselves to seeing new characteristics of God and we stretch our capacity for empathy. Choose a voice that is new to you and start the beautiful journey of entering the pain and joys of other humans striving to be transformed by the cross.
This reflection was adapted from a letter by Dr. Cyndi Parker to the congregation at Resurrection Philadelphia, where she is Director of Education & Conversation. Dr. Parker is the author of Encountering Jesus in the Real World of the Gospels and creator of Context Matters, a podcast “for people who are curious about the ancient context that influenced the final shape of the Bible…and also how our modern context influences the way we understand the Bible and God and all things spiritual.”