We’re about a week and a half into Lent, the church’s 40-day solemn preparation for Easter. Like baseball’s spring training, it’s designed to get us back in shape and ready for the main season. That’s Easter and Easter living. Our Lenten spring training accomplishes that through self-examination, repentance, and confession; prayer, fasting, practicing self-denial; and reading and meditating on the Scriptures.
It’s traditional to give up something for Lent. I thought about giving up eggplant and lima beans. Just kidding. This year I have given up politics for Lent. This is not about hiding from what’s taking place. Nor is it apathy. Rather it's watching events without buying into the partisan negativity of the left or right. A couple of lines from a contemporary poem captures what fasting from partisan politics looks like for me:
“Take care of things close to home first. Straighten up your room before you save the world. Then save the world.”
--"How to be Perfect" by Ron Padgett quoted by Garrison Keillor on Writer's Almanac Feb. 23, 2020.
That means more Lenten basics and letting go of the need to opine on politics for 40 days and 40 nights. This isn’t easy. I’m writing this on “Super Tuesday.” Like many of us in this hyperpolarized time, I am sometimes caught up in the stimulus/response drama. I need to straighten up my room and that’s what Lent is about. Maybe you may want to try something like that.
In addition to giving up something, it's also traditional to take on a special discipline for Lent. Mine is going to be fasting and praying for the soul of our nation and encouraging others to do the same. It’s the way we Christians can save the world, as the poem puts it. The head of my church, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry of The Episcopal Church, as well as other national church leaders, are calling for us to take on the discipline of intentional prayer, fasting, and repentance for the healing of our nation.
He writes, “In times of great national concern and urgency, people of faith have returned to ancient practices of repentance, prayer and fasting as ways of interceding with God on behalf of their nation and the world. This is such a moment for us in the United States. On Ash Wednesday I will join with other Christian leaders observing this Lent as a season of prayer, fasting and repentance on behalf of our nation, with continued fasting each Wednesday until the Wednesday before Advent begins. Our appeal comes during a time of profound division and genuine crisis of national character. This is not a matter of party or partisanship, but of deep concern for the soul of America."
He goes on to say: “The group of religious ‘Elders’ who share this commitment – the same group that over a year ago published the ‘Reclaiming Jesus’ statement – includes Evangelical, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant leaders. While we hold diverse political affiliations and positions on many issues facing our country, we find common ground in two shared convictions:
“First and foremost, we are committed to Jesus Christ as Lord, and his way of love as our primary loyalty. Second, because we love our country, we are concerned about its moral and spiritual health and well-being.”
“For me,” says Bishop Curry, “this call is rooted in my personal commitment to practice Jesus’s Way of Love, by which I turn, learn, pray, worship, bless, go and rest in the way of our Savior. Especially now, drawn together by love, hope and concern, and recalling the wisdom of our ancient traditions, I am grateful to join others in the spiritual practice of prayer, fasting and repentance for our nation.”
The present contentious spirit has driven many to their knees, which is not a bad place to start. “Going to God,” Curry says, “means tuning out the constant tumult crowding our heads in order to tune our hearts to quieter voices revealing God's holy intentions for this time.”
Connecting with God through repentance, prayer, and fasting can empower us and others to work to heal divisions. When we open ourselves to God we shine more brightly with truth. We become bold with real acts of compassion, transformation, and love. You have undoubtedly heard the prayer, "Let there be peace and let it begin with me." That's how we need to proceed. Praying and fasting for our homeland can help restore balance in our lives. Hopefully that spirit becomes contagious.
U.S. church elders calling for intentional repentance, prayer, and fasting for the soul of the nation include:
- Bishop Carroll, Baltimore Bishop Global Alliance Interfaith Networks
- Dr. Amos Brown, Chair, Social Justice Commission, National Baptist Convention USA, Inc.
- Dr. Walter Brueggemann, Professor Emeritus, Columbia Theological Seminary
- Rev. Dr. Iva Carruthers, General Secretary, Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference
- The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry Presiding Bishop and Primate, The Episcopal Church
- Marie Dennis, Senior Advisor/Co-President (2007-2019), Pax Christi International
- Rev. Wesley Granberg-Michaelson, General Secretary Emeritus, Reformed Church in America
- Rev. Dr. Cynthia Hale, Senior Pastor, Ray of Hope Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Rev. Dr. Richard Hamm, Retired General Minister and President, Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Dr. Otis Moss Jr., Pastor Emeritus, Olivet Institutional Baptist Church
- Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick, Christian Methodist Episcopal Church
- Fr. Richard Rohr, Founder, Center for Action and Contemplation
- Dr. Ron Sider, President Emeritus, Evangelicals for Social Action
- Rev. Jim Wallis, President and Founder, Sojourners
- Rev. Dr. Sharon Watkins, Minister, Bethany Memorial Church (Disciples of Christ)
- Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner, Co-Convener, National African American Clergy Network
- Rev. Dr. Tony Campolo, Co-Founder, Red Letter Christians
- Dr. Will Willimon, Professor, Duke Divinity School and Bishop (retired), United Methodist Church
- Rev. Dr. James Forbes, President & Founder, Healing of the Nations Foundation and Preaching Professor, Union Theological Seminary
The Very Rev. Stephen Brehe is the retired Dean of St. Peter’s Episcopal Cathedral in Helena.
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