Action and Contemplation During Lent

I am by disposition a reflective person. I don’t jump into the deep end without checking about the depth. I don’t make big personal, professional, or administrative changes without counting the cost and considering the impact on my family, colleagues, and friends. I often meditate and pray long and hard about decsions, and sometimes the moment passes before I’ve charted the path ahead. I often regret my reflective approach, and then again, I breathe a sigh of relief when I’ve dodged a bullet or discovered that a hasty decision would have hurt me or others.

With that preamble, I am thinking my way and praying my path toward a long term Lenten action. I was touched by Kimberly McOwen Yim and Shayne Moore’s Refuse to Do Nothing: Finding the Power to Abolish Modern-Day SlaveryFormer Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill is noted for saying, “All politics is local.” So, too, is our venture into ethical reflection and action. As I read Yim and Moore’s book, I thought of all the small children who are pressed to work inhumane hours to support their families and the boys and girls who become sex workers before they’ve reached their teen years. Slavery is an unacceptable affront to God and humankind at whatever age, but the most “local” empathy I have comes from thinking of these children as once having been toddlers and babies like my grandsons. I would be tempted to commit mortal injury to anyone who threatened these little boys; and without recourse to violence, I need to see all children as my own grandchildren. Every child deserves a childhood. End of discussion. For my reflections on child slavery, see my review of Refuse to Do Nothing as part of the Patheos Book Club. 

The philosopher Alfred North Whitehead once noted that life begins with the dream of youth and reaps in the course of a lifetime “tragic beauty.” We all eventually must face tragedy, but do these small children ever have the opportunity to experience beauty? Do they ever spend a day playing in safety or reading a bedtime story with a parent or grandparent? Or, imagining themselves as Thomas the Train, Winnie the Poor, or Angelina Ballerina? Do they ever have a chance to have a childhood?

I am putting my toe in the water of child slavery. I am beginning to research organizations and want to put my time, talent, and treasure to ending this in our lifetime. Of course, this means a fundamental economic change in our world since poverty often drives parents to this extreme. Every grandparent has the right to the same joy I feel as I gaze upon my own grandchildren. To my readers: if you have any good ideas, please let me know.  For more on Refuse to Do Nothing, see  https://www.facebook.com/RefuseToDoNothing/info

A great journey begins with a small step and even more than that, if you are able, a long walk. My denomination, the United Church of Christ, and I suspect others, is encouraging a “carbon fast” as a spiritual discipline during Lent. For more information see the following link: http://macucc.org/pages/detail/2410

In the words of the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ: We invite you to join us as we commit to fasting from carbon during Lent. Beginning Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, participants will receive a daily email with the day’s suggested carbon-reducing activity. When possible, this will include a quantitative measure of the carbon reduction resulting from the activity. Each daily email will also have a section suggesting a weekly focus for the congregation….The activities range from the very simple: eliminate “vampire” electrical use; to the moderately challenging: take “military showers;” reduce your driving speed; to more long term: buy local produce and consider getting involved in a community garden.” It is not too late to join this Lenten adventure as part of our quest to be God’s partners in healing the Earth.

Certain aspects of this fast are a snap for me: I seldom drive any distance less than two miles. I simply love walking and carry my bags to and from the local market on a daily basis. Others involve mindfulness: turning down the thermostat, insuring that lights are turned off, taking own bags to the market rather than using paper or plastic, recycling whenever possible. This, of course, is just the tip of the iceberg, but we begin where we are, not legalistically, but gracefully to do our best to insure a beautiful world for our children and children’s children.

Lent is a journey and even a reflective and deliberate thinker like me can take small steps that may lead to great transformation and to sharing in our vocation of tikkin ‘olam, partnership with God in healing the earth.

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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