Being Human: Lent in 2021

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small, pink blossoms on the sidewalk, fallen from a tree

I saw these small fallen blossoms on a morning walk and they felt fitting for this Ash Wednesday, when we remember the freedom that comes from remembering we are dust, yet God knows and cherishes us.

Since I began engaging the Lenten season over a decade ago, it’s always been hard for me. Fasting food brings up a lot of issues for me, and I would usually fail and give up 2/3 of the way in. I always felt obligated to fast without really understanding why or locating desires behind it, and the Enneagram 3 in me always pushed me to make too many commitments with not enough conviction. Western individualism and guilt-based theology, along with a very low anthropology (“total depravity”) also made it feel too much like a season of self-flagellation for me, denying self because self is bad. Confronting sin and brokenness always felt heavy and condemning. And I always gave up feeling like a failure, and Easter was more of a celebration that it was over than anything else.

With everything that’s been happening in our world this past year, and (as my friend Christ Scott said) this whole past year feeling like the season of Lent, I am hoping for a different engagement with this season in 2021. We have been confronted daily with the weight of our own depravity, evil, and mortality. We have been in a prolonged season of grief and lament.

So this year, I felt compelled to lead our church through a series exploring the humanity of Jesus, his full identification with the human experience and what it means to pursue intimacy with Jesus by embracing our humanity instead of trying to escape it. I’ve come to realize that sin ultimately is not just a “breaking of the law” or “missing of the mark” (as Western, guilt-based cultures might emphasize). It is a distortion of humanity- the consequences of us trying to live as more than we were meant to, or less than we were meant to.

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art for our church Lenten series

Trying to live as more than human is what leads to many of the sins in our nation- greed, violence, domination, overconsumption, entitlement, oppression. On the flip side of that, living as less than human it is what leads to our resignation to shame, guilt, numbness, self-hatred, anxiety, and apathy.

What if to be more like Jesus is to actually be more fully human, rather than trying to be less so?

For me, this means that my Lent this year will be focused on experiences that help me live as fully human. I’m committing to shutting off my phone from 11pm-8am (hopefully to sleep more!), walking daily, journaling my feelings, and doing something weekly that serves others/the community. I am praying that there’s a shift in my heart and that this season feels more liberating and life-giving rather than defeating.

Also, I’m thankful for the work of some friends and colleagues that I want to highlight, as potential Lent resources for you in this journey of being human, from a diverse range of social locations.

BIPOC Created Resources for Lent

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Resurrecting Self-Care: A 40 Day Journey with Dr. Chanequa

This is the resource that I plan to use, as I reflect more on what it means to be human. Also, I love everything that Dr. Chanequa writes because I love her heart and hope you’ll check this out. It’s available online at her blog and she’ll also be posting daily to Instagram with a daily reflection and practice on self-care.

For more: https://www.drchanequa.com/blog or follow her on IG at: @drchanequa

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Drawing Closer to Creator and Creation: An Indigenous Journey through Lent

This is the resource I used last year and it was so helpful to think about Lent through an Indigenous perspective. I love Dr. Randy Woodley and all of his work, and found this work to be incredibly prophetic, educational, and gentle. He uses a theme for each week and has short daily reflections.

For more: https://www.eloheh.org/ or follow them on IG at: @eloheheagleswings

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Disabling Lent: An Anti-Ableist Lenten Devotional

I discovered Justice Unbound for Advent when they put out a womanist focused Advent resource, and was happy to discover they are also part of the PC(USA) community. I am looking forward to learning from and alongside this resource, which is available to download online. There are reflections for each Sunday in Lent and the various days of Holy Week.

You can find it online here: https://justiceunbound.org/

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Reclaiming My Theology: Lent Devotional (E-Book)

Brandi Miller is a dear friend and the Reclaiming my Theology has been a tremendous resource for many who are in the process of deconstructing and decolonizing faith. She collaborated with others on an Advent devotional and has created one for Lent as well. It utilizes reflection, prayer, meditations, acts of solidarity, connections with the earth, art reflections and more to give a pathway through this season leading up to Eeaster.

It’s available to purchase online at her website: https://www.reclaimingmytheology.com/

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Fury and Grace: 40 Days of Paintings and Poetry from Prison (Daily Lent Devotional)

Fury and Grace is a 40 day Lenten devotional that leads you on a pilgrimage from Ash Wednesday to Resurrection Sunday, using scripture, poetry, paintings, and prayer from the women of Hagar’s Community Church- a church behind bars. Each day contains a work from members of Hagar’s community, a reflection, and a closing prayer.

It’s available to purchase online at: https://www.hagarscommunitychurch.com/furyandgrace

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Lenten Lamentations: Daily Devotional from Dominique Gilliard and myself (from 2017)

It’s been 4 years since Dominique and I created this resource, but a few friends have been asking about it so I’m sharing here. It’s a daily resource that correlates each day of Lent with a story from American racial history, and was created to help make space for lament and repentance in the American church around our complicity in racial realities.

Lent in 2017 began on March 1st, so the days of Lent don’t align with 2021, but if you don’t mind that the story being told isn’t exactly a “this day in history” event, then you are still able to use this.

You can find it online at this link.

Blessings to you in this Lenten Journey, in such a strange time. May you remember that you are dust and find freedom and joy from that in this season.

Blessing the Dust
For Ash Wednesday

All those days
you felt like dust,
like dirt,
as if all you had to do
was turn your face
toward the wind
and be scattered
to the four corners

or swept away
by the smallest breath
as insubstantial —

did you not know
what the Holy One
can do with dust?

This is the day
we freely say
we are scorched.

This is the hour
we are marked
by what has made it
through the burning.

This is the moment
we ask for the blessing
that lives within
the ancient ashes,
that makes its home
inside the soil of
this sacred earth.

So let us be marked
not for sorrow.
And let us be marked
not for shame.
Let us be marked
not for false humility
or for thinking
we are less
than we are

but for claiming
what God can do
within the dust,
within the dirt,
within the stuff
of which the world
is made
and the stars that blaze
in our bones
and the galaxies that spiral
inside the smudge
we bear.

Jan Richardson

Co-Pastor @bethelcommunitysl | Director of Advocacy @fphayward | pastor, activist, writer | married to @eubanksme | co-author of @lentenlament | she/her

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