CT@Prayer: An ecumenical call to Lenten prayer

Last year I gave up Dr. Pepper for Lent. It didn’t enhance my spiritual life, just left me with afternoon headaches.

The Lenten season is a time to quiet your mind and refresh your spirit. I get why people give up treats like soda or chocolate. When you miss those things it’s a reminder that you should be reflecting on your faith. Lent is a time to break bad habits, and bad habits can easily become a theological distraction. But giving up wine or meat isn’t exactly imitating Jesus’ time in the wilderness (Luke 4:1-13) is it?

I think it’s about time Lent had a makeover, and many churches seem to agree as they explore new ways to observe the season. This year many New England congregations, for example, are participating in an ecumenical carbon fast.

In a Washington Post article, Jim Antal, who heads the Massachusetts Conference of the United Church of Christ, explained his excitement for the carbon fast.

“We’re trying to deal with the mingling of individual Lenten disciplines with social change. And that is precisely what will save the Earth – if individuals who begin to get it … begin to say, ‘Gosh, I need to change my life, and I need to become an activist.’”

Some key phrases stand out – social change, save the earth, become an activist.

I think Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services has the right idea too. Enough with the self-denial, this Lenten season let’s care for our neighbors by standing with them and praying for them.

The prophet Isaiah reminds us that fasting isn’t always about abstaining from food, especially when we make our efforts known. It’s supposed to be a quiet, humble thing that we do without recognition.

In Isaiah 58:6-7, we learn what fasting really means, “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loosen 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 wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?”

In other words, let’s fast from ourselves. Let’s try to be compassionate, kind and selfless for the next 40 days (OK, 38 days now).

And it doesn’t matter what faith you are. We all go out for green beers on St. Patrick’s Day even if we’re not Irish and don’t know about the life of slavery and captivity that the missionary was forced to endure. Most of us sing Christmas carols, even if we don’t practice the Christian faith. And at Hanukkah, we all should put menorahs in our windows so we can spread the light with our Jewish brothers and sisters. Lent is no different – everyone can use this time to focus on making the world a better place, and hopefully, after a month of practice, activism will become a way of life for us.

So where to start? I say we pull together and pray for the democracy fever that seems to be sweeping the globe. We’re obsessed with Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan and too many of us don’t care about the issues that we’re so far removed from, like the uprisings in Libya, Egypt, Tunisia and the Ivory Coast. Human beings are dying because they want free and equal rights to participate in a system of government – rights that we take for granted.

This column is called CT@Prayer, so Connecticut, let’s pray together. From now until Easter, no matter what faith you are, will you pray with me for the people in these divided nations? Will you be more aware of their suffering and let yourself feel empathy for them? Hopefully by doing so, together we can see a social change.

I say continue with your Lenten fast, learning a little self-discipline never hurt anyone. But let’s pray, too.

Tracy Simmons is editor of Creedible.com, which is an online magazine that covers religion news in Connecticut. Her column on CtWatchdog, CT@Prayer, covers the consumer aspect of religion in Connecticut, reporting on the good deeds being done at different houses of worship, where they are falling down, and she will be looking into complaints from members of congregations. Please contact her at tsimmons@creedible.com if you have story ideas.


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