I grew up without Lent. This season of prayer and penitence, practiced since the earliest days of the Christian community, was a foreign creature. In my church we talked about resurrection and new life in Christ, about the sufficiency of Christ’s suffering once for all, but we looked askance at the legalism and strictness with which other traditions observed these forty days.
Our caution wasn’t without reason. An externally enforced ritual, motivated by fear of punishment or shame of exclusion, remains spiritually bankrupt. Yet as I grew older and learned more about the rich history of my faith, I realized we were missing out on something important. The experience of absence. Suffering. Self-emptying. Confession. Yes, God offers us new life and forgiveness in Christ. But how can we experience their riches if we don’t know what we must be forgiven for, if we do not acknowledge the ever-present reality of suffering? Lent was an opportunity to enter into the darkness of our world and of our own hearts, so that our whole being might be ready for the Light.
Jesus himself did not begin his ministry, bringing life through word and deed, before forty days fasting and facing his own demons. And neither did he rise to give new life to the world before he had also suffered and died a humiliating, agonizing death. If Jesus is our model, then we know:
There can be no love without sacrifice. There can be no life without death.
What does this mean today, in a world groaning under the burden of climate change? When our everyday lives, from the cars we drive, to the homes we inhabit, to the food we eat, are inextricably bound up with fossil fuel extraction?
It’s clear we need political action. We must call on our political leaders to change policy, set limits on greenhouse gas emissions, invest in renewable energy, build better infrastructure for transit and energy-efficiency. And we need economic action: the promotion of localized food systems, businesses that link profit to the vitality of communities and ecosystems, a rethinking of an economy tied to endless growth. But whatever our attempts toward these ends, they will only be so effective unless underpinned by a growing movement characterized by spiritual power and transformed lives.
There can be no Easter without Lent.
This season, I’m re-learning true spiritual power: sacrifice made in love. With its high requirements for energy, fertilizers, land, and water, our insatiable demand for meat is a key factor in increasing greenhouse gas emissions. So, in concern for God’s earth, my wife and I have given up meat for Lent. We’re learning what it feels like, embodying our prayers, discovering what we actually need to live lives healthy for us and for the planet. And it really is empowering.
Maybe that’s what Lent is, after all. A chance, like Jesus, to become the change we long to see. A healthy planet with a healthy economy organized by healthy people, people who have learned through sacrifice the priceless gifts of simplicity, humility, and contentment. A people who have faced the darkness of the unfolding climate catastrophe and not lost hope, because we have become hope. A people ready, when our Lenten struggle is over, for resurrection day.
Will you join us?
Jason Wood is a founding member of Earthkeepers, now working as the Political Action lead. He and his wife Anna worship with St. Brigid’s, an Anglican church in downtown Vancouver.