Lent (Old English for Spring), the 40 days (excluding Sundays) leading up to Easter, has been observed by Christians one way or another since the time of the apostles. Beginning on Ash Wednesday (February 26 this year), Lent is a time of penitence, fasting, prayer and “good works” – sacrificial giving, right relations and justice making. This time of spiritual preparation, modeled on the 40 days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for his baptism and ministry allows us to re-adjust our often short-sighted and selfish vision to a longer and deeper view – to humble ourselves, to find our ‘right size’ in the world. As Charlotte the spider reminded Wilbur the pig, ‘“Humble” has two meanings, “not proud” and “near the ground”.’ (Charlotte’s Web, E.B. White, Harper & Brothers, 1952). In 2020, pride and distance from the ground are luxuries we can no longer afford to entertain, either spiritually or physically. The illusion that we are separate either from the world we live in or from the rest of its inhabitants – animal, vegetable or mineral is no longer sustainable. Regaining our sense of proportion is imperative.
So where do we begin? As I recently confessed to my Spiritual Director, “I’m not humble!” This comes as no surprise to those who know me best. Western culture does not elevate humility, which I suppose would be a contradiction in terms anyway. I either find myself consumed with self-deprecation (false humility), or completely confident that I alone have the answer (the right answer, that is). Where is that illusive sense of proportion – that oh, so relational of states I long for?
Perhaps the answer lies in the word ‘relational’. In Christian tradition our status as humans is profoundly imbedded in relationship – breathed into life from the divine breath, our first relationship – created from the very substance of the stars and the universe, along with dark and light, earth, water, wind and fire – we are one with the very cosmos. By our birth we are loved into existence, and sustained by our loving inter-relationship with the divine; with one another and with the earth, water, air, plants and creatures with whom we share this singular planet. Lent begins with penitence. Recovering relationship begins with honest and authentic appraisal of where we have fallen out of relationship. It is no secret that we have fallen deeply, perhaps irrevocably out of relationship with Mother Earth. Our relationship with our fellow humans is not far behind. And every day our various addictions, from opioids and crystal meth to over-eating and over-work, to soul and earth destroying over-consumption, reflect our damaged relationship to the image of the divine in our own bodies and lives.
Yet simply wallowing in where we have gone wrong can paralyze us, or worse, push us into apathy or defensiveness. Spiritual maturity, spiritual praxis, requires us to move beyond repentance to action.
To recover a true sense of humility, the blessing to all concerned of being ‘right sized’ in our world may begin with something as simple as coming to a stop. In the early 2000s, the UN Environmental Sabbath program had this to say: “We who have lost our sense and our senses – our touch, our smell, our vision of who we are; we who frantically force and press all things, without rest for body or spirit, hurting our earth and injuring ourselves, we call a halt. We want to rest…We declare a Sabbath, a space of quiet: for simply being and letting be; for recovering the great, forgotten truths, for learning how to live again.” Forty days isn’t long. I think I might risk it.
Rev. Julianne Kasmer is part of the Spiritual Care Team at Our Place Society.
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* This article was published in the print edition of the TImes Colonist on Saturday, February 29th 2020