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15 February 2013

Lent: beyond self-denial

Lent: beyond self-denial

Lent started this week - 40 days of preparation before Easter. Lent is a time for reflection, creating space and listening to some deeper stirrings in order to further align our lives with God's vision. And many will have decided to give up something during Lent, a small or large sacrifice that will remind us daily of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross.

Some Bishops are calling for a meat-free Lent. Product boycotts were a viable tactic employed by the slavery abolitionist campaign in the former centuries. The boycott of West Indian slave-grown sugar was an effective measure in the campiagn to abolish the slave trade. In turn, we can withold our spending power in order to demand change in the deplorable practises in farming and the meat industry. Others have called for a carbon-free Lent in view of our stewardship of the environment.

Whatever we choose to give up, it's not so much about denying ourselves a hamburger, refraining from wine and chocolates, skipping lunch or cycling to work – it's about shaping a more humane way of life, a more Christ-like life.

The scope of Jesus' self-denial, celebrated at Easter, encompasses everything. It's about a God who in the person of Christ faithfully engages in a costly and vulnerable intervention in the world in order to roll back human selfishness and empower humans to live faithfully in and for the world. Such a wide scope, rooted in love, will help us to transcend our own interest. And that takes a generous measure of 'doing without'.

In The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses, C.S. Lewis reflects, "If you asked 20 good [persons] today what they thought the highest of the virtues, 19 of them would reply, Unselfishness. But if you had asked almost any of the great Christians of old [they] would have replied, Love. You see what has happened? A negative term has been substituted for a positive, and this is of more than philological importance. The negative ideal of Unselfishness carries with it the suggestion not primarily of securing good things for others, but of going without them ourselves, as if our abstinence and not their happiness was the important point. I do not think this is the Christian virtue of Love. The New Testament has a lot to say about self-denial, but not about self-denial as an end in itself."

Lent is the season when we sacrificially give of ourselves. Living out this radical nature of love requires a lifestyle of costly, selfless, loving acts of daily commitment to God's vision for his world. His shalom, a wellbeing that is communal and personal, concerns a comprehensive restoration of individuals and of cultural and social life. It includes peace, soundness, wholeness, security and fullness of life, in which our relationships with God, each other and the wider creation are thriving.

During Lent we read, reflect, give and give up so that we may become the best that we can be. We ponder on how this bigger picture of sacrifice and shalom affects our worship in the everydayness of life. We stop and rest, listen and learn. We simplify, so that we may know how to live wisely, more lovingly and generously ever after.

Marijke Hoek, Forum for Change coordinator

   Photo credit: AbelieverA