Make Lent about building relationships, not giving up something | Voices of Faith

·3 min read
Rev. Chris McCreight
Rev. Chris McCreight

I can recall sitting in the church pews about this time of year when I was young, listening to the minister talk about the approaching season of Lent and asking each of us to begin considering what we would give up this year as an offering. This fast, which is custom during this 40-day period, mirrored the fasting of Jesus in the wilderness. The intention behind the practice is that as it had led this one to a sense of radical communion with God, a fast would remove a barrier and allow everything to return.

We were to give up something of significance. It was to be something that carried such a presence in your life that you would notice the absence. It was to be something that was understood as an obstacle between you and all that was holy. And because I was 12 years old (and may or may not have really understood the concept here), I chose to give up candy.

The struggle was real. The significance of candy in my life was heavy; its absence was noticed every waking moment. But was I any closer to the sacred after excluding something from my life? Not that I had noticed. Perhaps it was my brilliant workaround to consume cookies instead of candy, but I think there was also something about the way that I approached the season - carrying the idea that I would become more worthy or more pure or more loved by excluding something from my life.

That concept - that we somehow make ourselves pure through exclusion - has a strong resonance. It can play on our insecurities and drag our self-worth beneath the surface. It can give those of us with the power to exclude another excuse to do so. It can lead us to create and secure an image of purity and perfection as the only image the divine can bless and inhabit. And then, what happens to all that we have excluded?

This concept is at play within religious communities and within our religiously inspired and non-religiously inspired political cultures. Anything that has significance to someone can be selected as that which must be excluded. Anything can be identified as an obstacle between us and all that is holy, or become the dividing matter between “us” and “them.” It can be (and actually has been) something as trivial as candy. The concept has a strong resonance.

Were purity to be gained by exclusion, then perhaps the story of Christ may have best concluded in the wilderness. How else can one become more holy? To what other end does this idea lead? The story does not conclude in the wilderness, but proceeds into relationship with all, particularly with those who have been excluded by power - to meet, to reflect the divine dignity, to heal, to serve, and to join. This is how the story goes, and there is something here that may resonate and remain with us even more than the other.

Whether you participate in the season of Lent or not, may you know that you are loved and worthy exactly as you are.

Whether you have a genuine community or have been excluded by priests, congregations or politicians, may you know that you belong.

Let us honor the practices that invite us together and lead us to see the virtues and the goodness of each other and our whole communities.

This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Make Lent about building relationships, not giving up something