Lent for the love of others

Lent: we’ve been into it for over a week now. We are in this spiritual wilderness desiring to be better people, hoping to change. All sorts of actions are getting us into spiritual-shape again: fasting, almsgiving and prayer. Through each simple act, we confront our weaknesses and give up on trying to make it on our own. We recognize our need to depend on God.

Yes, here in this Lenten desert we are parched and challenged by the Truth: we must give in to God’s ways. God’s ways are communal. Living according to God’s ways will allow us to grow into the people we know God made us to be. God made us for interdependent relationships. God made us to put love into action.

In this Lenten wilderness, it shouldn’t take long for our penitential living to turn from classic navel-gazing into phenomenal social transformations. This life of faith is not about us alone. Christian living is not a me-and-God thing. Rather, we give, fast and pray to remember that this faith-life is about all of us together loving like God loves. Our sacrifices and disciplines are meant to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Jesus’ sacrifices certainly did just that.

This means I gave up sugar for Lent–not just because I want to get healthier but because I want the entire global sugar industry to become more just. Naturally then, if I am avoiding sugar during these 40 days, I must also pray and advocate for changes in the corrupt food system, for improvements in the lives of the workers on sugar plantations. This Lenten sacrifice is not just about me. It’s about loving my neighbor like Jesus taught me to.

In our culture, it can be challenging for our Lenten actions to not have self-centered motivations. When we’re comfortable and distant from the suffering of others, our focus can become too inward. When we feel the impact of sacrifice it can become difficult for us to remember the reason for the tradition of our Church: we give things up in order to help the poor. It takes a different type of intentionality to connect with the people who we love and want to help with our actions. Fortunately, there are several tools to help us connect to our global community. For the love of others, let’s utilize these resources because otherwise it can be hard to believe that our actions make a real systemic difference.

Thank God, Scripture assures us that God is with us in this relational struggle even when the doubts are intense or the sacrifice is too hard. God strengthens us and revives us while we fast for the good of others:

If you lavish your food on the hungry

and satisfy the afflicted;

Then your light shall rise in the darkness,

and your gloom shall become like midday;

Then the LORD will guide you always

and satisfy your thirst in parched places,

will give strength to your bones

And you shall be like a watered garden,

like a flowing spring whose waters never fail.

 Isaiah 58: 10-11

Photo credit: https://downstreampress.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/nestles-attempt-to-tap-into-oregon-spring-water/

May God bless all our actions for personal and social conversion this Lent.

May God help us remember that we do this for more than God and ourselves, we do this for the love of others! Amen!

Added on Friday, February 27th: 

By the way, I really like what Kerry Weber says in this video about this very topic: “My Lenten journey and your Lenten journey are intertwined in the messiness of our everyday lives.”

Joy of fasting: recipes for Easter-living

Guest blogger Amy Nee

Easter came in singing, and the blossoming trees around town seem to confirm its promise of new life. Lent has come and gone and, along with it, our fasting obligations. As I face Ordinary Time and ordinary ways of living (if such a phrase can ever be applied to a Catholic Worker lifestyle), I am left wondering: what did we learn?

Going for forty-plus days abiding (admittedly imperfectly) by the commitments to go without cane sugar and sugar substitutes, to not bring new plastic into the house and to refrain from using electricity and other sources of energy on Sunday was not easy. But was it worthwhile? These three fasts may seem different to outsiders, but I found a unifying result binding together my experience of each.

Our fasts disabled “auto-pilot” – the everyday in-and-out I seem to be subject to, blindly doing things without thinking – and forced me into paying attention, preparing and being patient. As the practice of mindfulness developed and the excesses of convenience were diminished, my senses were refined so that I could hear the quietly-deep desires that are normally drowned out by the white noise of daily living.

I began to discover how foods full of sugar and corn syrup are disguised as a healthy choice (sometimes quite literally bearing that phrase on the label) through clever marketing and veiled language. While my cravings for easy options and sugary satisfaction wearied of the constant “no’s,” my body began to express its gratitude. With each little “no” I was making way for a larger “yes,” an affirmation of healthier, more just and often more creative choices that helped me make the connection between the food I eat, and where that food comes from, who works for it, and how it affects the quality of life for us all.

That creativity and conscientiousness came into play when shopping as well. Not only did I prepare physically, making sure to have a cloth bag on hand, I also prepared mentally, often not being able to buy what I wanted because chances were good that a shiny plastic film was between me and that item.

While browsing the cheese section of Whole Foods (after rummaging through its dumpster, of course), I found to my dismay that there was not one scrap of that dairy delight free of plastic wrapping. An employee, noting my long-lingering lack of selection approached. “Can I help you?” “I’m afraid not. Unless you have some cheese that isn’t in plastic?” “Oh. Hm, I don’t think we do.” “I didn’t think so. I am trying to reduce the use of plastic by not buying anything packaged with it. I really want to make a pizza, but if I bring plastic-wrapped cheese in the house I’ll be ostracized by my community.” “Mhm. Well, we can’t have that.” Being the savvy salesperson that he was, this young man did not submit to defeat. He came up with an alternative, “We have bulk cheese that doesn’t get put out. I could cut some off for you and wrap it in wax paper.” Beautiful! I would be hard pressed to think of a more satisfying purchase than that soggy slab of fresh, wax-wrapped, mozzarella.

Blocks of cheese

Going without plastic wasn’t easy, but the challenge was energizing and helped direct me toward a way of living more mindfully and responsibly on this beautiful, abused planet. Perhaps the most challenging and enriching aspect of the fast was our energy-free Sundays. The first Sunday morning was an education in unconscious habits—flicking on a light as soon as I walk in a room, checking my phone for the time, checking the computer for weather/correspondence/news—and a hitherto unnoticed dependence on the stove. What about coffee? What about oatmeal? I responded by forming a new habit of making preparations on Saturday.

One Saturday afternoon, in the process of boiling eggs and frying pancakes that would be eaten cold the next morning, it occurred to me that I was keeping the Sabbath in a more genuine way than I ever had before. So much of the work we do, and so many of the distractions I have, are based in technology. By removing that, not only did I have the opportunity to rest from work, but I was able to engage in activities that I often long for but relegate to the bottom of my list of priorities. I found myself reading more, practicing guitar, writing letters, spending time talking and – best of all singing with community members and friends.

I am tempted to cling to Lent, relying on the season and the Church and community to enforce discipline upon me. I am honestly more afraid of the riotous new life of Easter than I am of Good Friday’s tomb. The grave offers a quiet end, linen-wrapped like a newborn baby. The perpetual promise of resurrection presents an eternity of new days. And with each of those days, the choice; who will I be? How will I live? Do I go out for dinner or eat the mysterious leftovers in the fridge? It’s no wonder that the way Christ taught us to pray is for the things that give life one day at a time: God’s will, daily bread, forgiveness (for us and from us), relief from temptation, now and forever. And what is forever but an eternity of todays? Let’s start with the one we have, and live it well.

Amy’s post serves as a nice follow-up to guest blogger Jerica Arents introduction to this Lenten fasting.

Photo credit: http://www.morguefile.com/archive/display/554400