Season of Lent
Traditionally the words used when distributing ashes on Ash Wednesday are: “remember you are dust, and unto dust you shall return”. In the past, that was the way we always began the penitential season of Lent, a season of prayer, fasting and abstinence, and self-sacrifice. We were to ready ourselves for Easter by becoming holier people, preparing for the Paschal promise of salvation. We began the season with a reminder of death. It was a view based on a theology of God’s justice and our unworthiness, and the result was a self-focused although sincere faith.
Today, science has taught us to become cosmic in our theology. While Genesis still rightly reminds us that in the beginning the creative Spirit / Breath of God hovered over the waters, we now know that there occurred a great flaring forth – what scientists regrettably named “the big bang”. The birth of an evolutionary universe tells of ongoing action. Stars continue to birth, age and explode. And at one point, all was in place for life. Therefore, some authors poetically say that the Ash Wednesday blessing should be: “remember you are star dust …”
The mystery of the universe is awe-inspiring and yet it pales in comparison to the mystery of a present, immanent, creative God who expresses God’s life within creation. We believe that God exists, creates, gives life, and is present to and lives within all that is. The new cosmology tells us that the elements and energies of the universe are interconnected, relational, changing, and accelerating. The current Theology finds the fullness of God present in creation.
Today as we prepare to enter Lent it is good to draw on that theology based on the new cosmology and to look again at the long-established practices of penance.
- When I fast, or resolve to eat healthier with fewer desserts, I must remember and pray with gratitude for the farmers who planted and harvested my food. I must thank the migrants who picked it and those who preserve seeds so that I may eat again. I must marvel at the contribution of the soil and water and sunlight and resolve to actively preserve earth. I must celebrate the shopkeeper and the cook as I savor a Lenten meal. Fasting now leads to prayer and the desire for connection, it is a different kind of hunger.
- When I abstain, I must remember the cost to earth by the large factory farms and the overuse of water. I must sorrow for the animals who are caged, space-restricted, and simply considered from the viewpoint of quantity and profit. I must not support progress that debilitates or extinguishes other lifeforms.
- When I pray, I must stand in awe of a God who breathes life into me, who speaks to me through my sisters and brothers, and who amazes and silences me with the beauty of creation. I must welcome a God who belongs to all that exists. I must become conscious that all creation is sacred and calls me to prayer.
- When I make small acts of self-sacrifice I must see myself as interconnected, interdependent, and in relationship with earth community. After all, we are one global human family and my overindulgence, careless waste, and lack of care robs those who are poor and marginalized. I must become respectful and globally conscious.
Lent is still a penitential season. But a current theology based on a new truth informs our prayer and practices. It is still wise to ready ourselves for Easter by becoming holier people, but our understanding of holiness is redefined and it is no longer a singular, self-focused reality. We stand in silence and awe before the mystery of creation which speaks the mystery of God. The Resurrection testifies to it.
Reflections celebrated on Sundays during this holy Season of Lent will be found under Scriptural Reflections. http://www.dominicancenter.org/spirituality/scriptural-reflections/