God has made everything suitable for its time; moreover God has put a sense of eternity into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to be happy and enjoy themselves as long as they live; moreover, it is God’s gift that all should eat and drink and take pleasure in all their toil. I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before God. Eccl. 3:11-14
When I was young, Lent was a competition with my high school friends to show who had the most self control. Whether giving up chocolate, sweets, meat or tv, each of us was eager to prove — and broadcast to the cafeteria table — our commitment to the spiritual fast.
However, as I have grown, I began to see Lent differently. A few years ago, instead of asking myself, “What do I want to give up?” I asked, “What will help me reconnect me to God?” With this shift, Lent has become less about promoting my super-humanness and more about remembering my human need for God and others.
The season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, when we place ashes on our foreheads to remind us that our lives will end, and that we must carry out our existence with the humility our mortality conveys.
As I approached Ash Wednesday this year, I was caught in a contradiction. On one hand, understanding my humanity seems tragic. As the author of Ecclesiastes says, nothing I do can ever meaningfully impact the great expanse of time and space and eons which God has authored. On the other hand, through my relationship with God, I feel a sense of eternity in my hearts that leads to a deep yearning to join God’s movement in the world.
From which reality should I operate? Should I allow my limited humanity lead me to be stagnant and uninvolved because “nothing matters?” Or should I instead respond to this reality by toiling endlessly, determined to prove my importance in the limited minutes I have?
I find the best answer to these questions in the life of Jesus. The more I read the stories of Jesus, the more I am drawn to his ability to respond in the moment, to the people at hand. When people were hungry, he fed them. When Mary was tired, she was invited to rest. When a bleeding woman interrupted Jesus’ path, he stopped and healed her.
This Lent, I want to follow Jesus and embrace a third way, one of deep humility. The Latin root for humility is humus, meaning ground or earth. As I sit with Jesus I am profoundly aware of how his ministry was consistently grounded to the moment at hand. Jesus’ third way of being human offers liberation. In embracing humility, we are released from the pressure of what might come of our work, and instead are invited to pursue the moment at hand wholeheartedly, with abandon, and access the joy the author of Ecclesiastes promises.
In January, LDI launched our six-month Formation Program, “Be the Church,” and I am inspired to witness how the seven teams in our program balance their dreams for social change with the reality of their different contexts. These teams have each committed to begin local movements that address issues such as segregation, anxiety, systemic racism, and waste elimination…all in six months!
Rather than being discouraged by the challenge of tackling something such big issues in such a short period of time, each team we’re working with has chosen a specific way of making progress towards their issue. For example, a team of inter-faith leaders in Milton will bring 300 people together to have conversations about ending racism in Milton by June 15.
The ability to respond boldly to whatever situation we meet fosters a sense of reconciliation — right-relationship — within ourselves. It is as if we are at our most human when we do what we can, and leave the rest for those who will inevitably come after us.
As we begin this Lent, I ask all of us, how are we being called to humbly embrace our humanity? In this context, when the world is full of heartache, how can we follow Jesus into the pain? In this extremely precious moment, how can you more urgently respond to opportunities knowing that we cannot and will not ever do it all? Where will you find liberation in frailty and feel the power of your humanity this Lent?
PS. I am abundantly grateful to Jesse Ortiz for their help writing this reflection. I would not have been able to do it on my own.