Practicing a Progressive Lent: Simplicity and Celebration

Photo: Joanna Paterson, Flickr

I don’t go in very much for penitence. I don’t focus much on sin; its reality is much too obvious and frankly most people emphasize small lapses, too often feeling guilty about small peccadillos, rather than concentrating on the social evils that daily destroy families, lead to violence in schools, and contribute to planetary climate change. I’ve never felt the need to “give up something for Lent.” Instead, I see Lent as a time for joyful simplicity that opens the door to whole-hearted celebration.

I want a clean heart, as Psalm 51 proclaims, but not at the cost of seeing myself and others as “guilty and conceived in sin” or constantly fearful of divine judgment. I want to be open to repentance, that is, to turn around and believe the good news that “now is the day of salvation.” But, what does it mean to say “now is the day of salvation?” What would it mean for you and me personally and for our congregations to proclaim salvation today?

Salvation is more than just survival after death; indeed, the image of salvation as our heavenly reward is a peripheral theme in scripture. Salvation is now; it is healing and wholeness of mind, body, spirit, and relationships, of persons and communities, in this world, right now. It means turning from death to life and embarking on God’s pathway of good news for persons and the planets. Good news can’t be individual. To be good news, it has to embrace us all, for the body of Christ is not healthy until all of its members are healthy and we must now conceive Christ’s body as planetary not congregational.

I’m going to theologize out loud for a moment and that means bringing my life into focus. Take some time to do this yourself. Ask yourself: What does it mean for me to live a time of Lenten simplicity and wholeness? What does it mean for me embark on God’s good news pathway? As I reflect on these Lenten questions, I’ve discovered that it means to remember what’s important for this moment and the long haul. It means for me to consider my calling right now as I’m writing in our study and my wife is researching holidays in our living room just a few feet away. What are her needs and our needs right now? It means to simplify my diet – if I am to give anything up this Lent, it would be to avoid the writer’s occupational hazard, snacking in between projects! It means taking care of my health so I can be a healthy vehicle of grace for my grandchildren and family and the wider community. This means not only my daily walk but time in the gym and staying away from some sweets. It means committing myself to “blessing” everyone I meet silently and occasionally with words.

We are taking a carbon fast this Lent and this means driving less and walking more. My first steps in this direction will be to walk two miles in a few minutes to meet a friend for coffee; I may as time permits take the bus or walk the four miles to my son, daughter, and grandsons’ home rather than walk. Of course, this will be celebrative since I love to walk.

It also means, for me, reflecting on what mission I need to commit to beyond the many hours I spend with my grandchildren. I have been pondering two in particular: responding to child slavery and gun violence; I want to love my grandchildren by insuring that other children live joyful lives. Though mission involves millions, the face of mission is always personal; that child right in front of you who hasn’t eaten for two days, the child sold into the sex or garment industry; the children killed at Sandy Hook or by gang violence. These are as beloved to God as my own beloved grandchildren.

Simplicity leads to celebration. Getting rid of your detritus and cleaning the windows opens wide your life to God moments along the way. Perhaps, in Lent, simplicity may mean adding some things – you see, even in Lent, God isn’t a killjoy and Jesus was criticized for his attendance at wild parties – walks with loved ones and friends; playing with children and grandchildren; generosity of time, talent, and treasure to causes that change the world; looking at sunrises and sunsets rather than reality television; giving a massage or a reiki treatment; cook savory meals and enjoy relaxing at the table rather than running off to an “important” project; volunteering at a food bank, soup kitchen, or winter shelter; and saying “I love you” as an antidote to negative speech; and giving thanks for life’s smallest joys. What practices will join simplicity and celebration in your life?

Have a joyful Lent, rejoicing in the simplicity that leads to celebration. Resurrection is here today and today is the day of salvation.

About Bruce Epperly

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, and Pastor of South Congregational United Church of Christ, Centerville (Cape Cod), Massachusetts. He is the author of twenty five books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study,The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age, and Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He has served as chaplain, professor, and administrator at Georgetown University, Lancaster Theological Seminary, Wesley School of Theology, and Claremont School of Theology. He may be reached at drbruceepperly@aol.com for lectures, workshops, and retreats. His latest book is Healing Marks: Healing and Spirituality in Mark’s Gospel (Energion).


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