I remember sitting in the pews at this time of year when I was young, listening to the minister talk about Lent approaching and asking each of us to start considering what we would give up this year as an offering. This fast, which is customary during this 40-day period, mirrored Jesus’ fast in the desert. The intention behind the practice is that, by bringing one into a sense of radical communion with God, a fast would remove a barrier and allow everything to come back.
We should give up something meaningful. It was meant to be something that carried such a presence in your life that you would notice its absence. It was to be understood as an obstacle between you and all that was holy. And since I was 12 (and I may or may not have really understood the concept here), I opted to give up sweets.
The struggle was real. The importance of sweets in my life was heavy; his absence was noted at every waking moment. But was I closer to the sacred after excluding something from my life? Not that I noticed. Perhaps it was my brilliant solution to consume cookies instead of candy, but I think there was also something about the way I approached the season – carrying the idea that I would make myself more worthy, purer or more loved by excluding something from my life. .
This concept – that we somehow become pure through exclusion – has a strong resonance. It can play on our insecurities and drag our self-worth beneath the surface. It might give those of us with the power to exclude another excuse to do so. It can lead us to create and hold an image of purity and perfection as the only image the divine can bless and indwell. And then what happens to everything we delete?
This concept is at play within religious communities and within our religiously inspired and non-religiously inspired political cultures. Anything that has meaning to someone can be selected as what is to be excluded. Anything can be identified as an obstacle between us and all that is holy, or become the dividing matter between “us” and “them”. It can be (and really has been) something as trivial as candy. The concept has a strong resonance.
If purity were obtained by exclusion, perhaps the story of Christ could best be completed in the wilderness. How else can one become holier? To what other end does this idea lead? The story does not end in the desert, but continues in relationship with all, particularly those who have been excluded by power – finding, reflecting divine dignity, healing, serving and uniting. That’s how the story goes, and there’s something here that might resonate and stay with us even longer than the other.
Whether or not you participate in the season of Lent, know that you are loved and worthy just as you are.
If you have genuine community or have been excluded by priests, congregations or politicians, know that you belong.
Let us honor the practices that invite and lead us to see the virtues and goodness of each other and of all our communities.
This article originally appeared on Record-Courier: Make Lent About Building Relationships, Not Giving Up Something