Today is the start of this year’s Lenten season. As a Quaker, raised Quaker, I didn’t participate in this tradition growing up. Though, with my interests in religion, spirituality and interfaith engagement, for six years now, I’ve used Lent as a time to explore the role of spiritual discipline in my life and I’ve used this season to gracefully contemplate on spiritual humbleness, piety and service.
The past two years, I’ve given out ashes at Brigham and Women’s Hospital with the rest of the chaplaincy department. It’s been a deeply moving experience that brings together so many people. Walking around the halls of the hospital with ashes on my forehead brought people to ask me where they could receive ashes and it created a sense of connection with people of other faiths who also had outward signs of their faith—there was a sense of solidarity among the faithful. I’ve wondered sometimes how Quakers might feel this sense of solidarity if we still (as a whole community) wore plain dress; if we could be recognized by sight as Friends.
So for this day of Ash Wednesday, I join in with the rest of the Christian community in receiving ashes and contemplating spiritual humbleness, poetry and service. This year, I haven’t been able to find a service in the morning to receive ashes earlier in the day, so I’m thinking of burning the palms I saved from last Palm Sunday and having my own time of prayer. I've recently read about Glitter+Ash and have some purple glitter I could mix with the ashes.
The Glitter+Ash site writes, “Glitter+Ash is an inherently queer sign of Christian belief, blending symbols of mortality and hope, of penance and celebration. Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Lent, a season of repentance. During Lent, Christians look inward and take account in order to move forward with greater health. At this moment in history, glitter ashes will be a powerful reminder of St. Augustine’s teaching that we cannot despair because despair paralyzes, thwarting repentance and impeding the change that we are called to make.”
Not only does this quote speak to me theologically, but also offers another way for me to show my support and solidarity with my LGTBQ friends and the wider LGTBQ community.
As for giving something up or taking something on as is the tradition of the season of Lent, I noticed a lot of folks on my Facebook feed asking others what they were doing. While this is not a comprehensive list of all the things you could do for Lent, here’s a survey of some of the posts I’ve seen:
Giving Something Up
- Self loathing, negative self-talk, negative body image: I’ve seen quite a few people write about giving up negative self-image/talk this year. It’s a direct contrast to the stereotypical Lent practice of dieting—giving up chocolate or sugar or junk food. While some folks are also trying to take on self-appreciation and self-love, a friend of mine specifically wrote that this was her starting point. As with everything in Lent, knowing what your own limits are, what you can do successfully, what is challenging is doable are all really necessary parts of choosing what to do for Lent. It’s easy to feel like we’ve failed when we take on a project like this, which of course if we are giving up negative self-talk just makes it harder. (Lent Advice: Choose something challenging but doable)
- Facebook: I’ve seen (which of course is only a selection of my friends) at least 10 people giving up Facebook for Lent. So many of us are screen-addicted and Facebook-addicted, that this could be a really nice social media cleanse. I find that Facebook has a way of overwhelming me with news and political arguments and making me feel bad about myself by showing me a curated view of other’s lives. It’s not my choice of things to give up this year, but I may try it another time.
- Declutter that Stuff Away! 40 bags in 40 days is a challenge I've seen a bunch of my friends complete and has been a really helpful jumping off point for living more simply. The site White House Black Shutters has a printable pdf to help you declutter a different area of your house each day of Lent.
- Things Truly Worth Giving Up: Instead of chocolate, sugar and junk food, the site Greater Things Today offers 40 things to give up for Lent that could have a longer lasting impact. Here's the list in the photo below:
Taking Something On
- Baking Bread: A friend on Facebook posted this this site, which is a Lenten series that encourages the learning of baking bread. The site includes a blog entry along with instructions for making a sourdough starter and different kinds of bread, allowing you to contemplate on a theological concept or a Bible verse and connect your baking to the season. The author encourages folks to choose a few times a week to bake and to think about giving some of the bread away to others. It’s a really neat Lenten series—the first of its kind that I’ve seen!
- Watching TV: You’d think watching TV would be something that you’d want to abstain from during Lent. Yet two Irish theologians teamed up to offer a blog and podcast series exploring the spiritual and theological themes of the Netflix show ”The OA.” They advise watching the episode first to avoid any spoilers.
- Liberation: Hacking Christianity has put together a “Liberation for Lent” series that will be looking at different types of Liberation theologies over the course of the season. Everything from Intro to Liberation theology to Black Theology, Feminist Theology, Womanist Theology, Queer Theology, and Postcolonial Theology will be covered. I've heard some folks on social media asking who’s working on Liberation Theology during this time in our history—well, these folks might have something to add to that conversation.
- Prayer: Looking for something more contemplative but still edgy and politically relevant? The Shalem Institute for Spiritual Direction "invites you to pray with us for our country, our leaders and our world. A friend of Shalem will be walking through the House and Senate office buildings and around the White House on Wednesday mornings from 9:00-10:00 AM EST, intentionally praying for all those whose offices she passes as well as those who are affected by the individuals in leadership positions. As she walks these halls and sidewalks, we are extending the invitation to the wider Shalem community to join with her in prayer, seeking truth, justice, peace and the well-being of all humanity and creation." You can sign up for weekly reminders and weekly prayers here.
- Photography: There are various photo projects—e.g., 40 days, 40 pictures—sites that I've seen. Some folks on Facebook are using the Upper Room’s Alive Now list:
- Kindness: A few different sites encouraging 40 Acts of Kindness have popped up on Facebook. Here's two. First, there is the ”Reverse Lent Challenge” which takes 5 simple ideas and encourages folks to touch 40 lives. And then there is the British 40 Acts in 40 days campaign. They have a lovely little video about the project:
There are obviously a lot more sites out there that have ideas of what to take on or to give up for Lent but I wanted to just bring some of them together for folks who are thinking about what they want to do this Lenten season. Feel free to post below some of your favorites or things that you are trying out this year. Blessing on your experiences and your challenges and remember, we all need grace from time to time to keep us on track and keep us faithful.