Out of the Simplicity of Lent, Generosity of Life

[Ed. note: This article is part of our series of weekly reflections, called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

Austere but hopeful. (Image courtesy Robert Kidd http://www.geograph.org.uk/profile/12192)

This pre-Easter period of Lent is shaped by the comingling of contemplation, germination, and expectation in our lives and spirits. We go about our days in both the shadow of our sin and the light of the Resurrection, and we may be motivated to simplify our lives to what is most formative and essential in light of the transformative power and promise of Christ’s death and resurrection.

This practice of reconsidering where we place our priorities and how we use our energy allows for the tangible expression of our faith in our daily lives. Perhaps we commit to making more space in our lives for time with God, or for service to friends or strangers who need the time and attention of another human being. Maybe we reject idle diversions, and instead immerse ourselves in cultivating the creation made by the very hands of God. Maybe we strive to honor God by preserving both his creation and his image in us by healthy eating, exercising, and community-building.

Certainly, as we reflect on the tremendous gift of life from the Lamb of God, we are encouraged to say, with John the Baptist, that “He must become greater; [we] must become less.” (John 3:30)

In this spirit, Christine Sine, a writer, gardener and the executive director of the Mustard Seed Associates community of believers, has written the following prayer for this Lenten season. Consider how her desire for this season echoes John the Baptist’s desire to glorify God while aligning his life and joy to the Lord:

God we have scattered ourselves
Looking for pleasure
We are dissatisfied with wanting, tasting and getting
God we have exhausted ourselves
Running after wealth
We are drained by long hours of pressure and stress
We have diminished ourselves
Seeking glory through our own efforts
We are disillusioned by self-centeredness and fleeting happiness
We have not found joy
In self-love, self satisfaction or self exultation
God have mercy and forgive us
Restore to us the joy of your salvation
Renew a right spirit within us
May we live well and enjoy productive and righteous lives
May we find our joy in serving you
And discover real happiness in loving others
May we find in the you the way, the truth and the life
Amen

This prayer also echoes Isaiah 58, the Bible passage around which the Lenten spirit of simplicity and generosity—the austerity of sin and death, and the abundance of joyful life—is fashioned. With only a few short weeks left until Easter, take a moment to reflect on these two contemplations, and consider ways to incorporate the spirit of each into your life.

Isaiah 58: True Fasting

"...then your light will rise in the darkness..."

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins.

For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them.

‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.

Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high.

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD ?

Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke?

Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter— when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard.

Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk,

and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday.

The LORD will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring whose waters never fail.

Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,

then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.”

The mouth of the LORD has spoken.

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