Lent 2024, Day 2: Beyond the Ashes.

My girl Kiki has been a critic of Lent for years. Not the “preparing for Easter” part. The whole, “ashes, sackcloth, downtrodden, starving, slow-singing, flower-bringing” part. It’s not that there’s a law that says observing Lent has to involve wearing a hair shirt while walking alone, stomach-rumbling, through a cold, frozen forest, all the while hitting yourself with a cat o’nine tails. Or quoting Biggie lyrics, either.

Jodi Belcher at Building Faith, writes about not taking Lent out on your body:

Lent is not an easy season for embodied people. The season calls Christians to take on disciplines like fasting and self-denial, reckon with our sin, and follow Jesus’s journey to certain suffering and death in a landscape marked by Christianity’s 2000-year-old struggle with human bodies and flesh. With all of these threads running through our liturgies and practices, our faith can get tangled up in confusing and even harmful messages about our bodies.

Messages like:

  • Bodies are sinful or shameful
  • Bodies are weak
  • Bodily needs should be suppressed, especially in relation to spiritual needs
  • Bodily suffering is part of God’s will
  • God won’t forgive me unless I steep my body in guilt and shame
  • Bodies don’t matter to God

When these beliefs go unchallenged, Lent can become a well-intentioned tool that ends up turning Christians against our own bodies in the name of God. Not only can a body-antagonistic Lent compromise Christians’ bodily safety and well-being, but it can also keep us from discerning body-affirming ways through the season.

I believe that the forty-day Lenten journey to Easter is about a God who chooses solidarity with embodied people and stands up for liberation and life all the way to the end. Lent gives us a season to dwell with this God as embodied persons created and cherished by God. We just need to untangle some threads to get there.

The good news is that Lent makes space for alternative ways to navigate fasting. One of the lectionary readings for Ash Wednesday, Isaiah 58:1–12, envisions a liberating, life-giving fast characterized by actions like “loos[ing] the bonds of injustice,” “let[ting] the oppressed go free,” “shar[ing] your bread with the hungry,” “bring[ing] the homeless poor into your house,” “cover[ing] [the naked],” and “satisfy[ing] the needs of the afflicted” (vv. 6, 7, 10, NRSVUE). This kind of fast involves acknowledging and meeting the needs of bodies, especially those most vulnerable and disempowered. Liberation from oppression, bodily flourishing, communal flourishing, and relationship with God are not at odds with one another; they nurture and sustain one another.

If we take our theological cues from Isaiah, Lenten fasting can become a liberating, body-affirming practice. Here are a few questions to help Christians discern fasting practices, whether related to food or not, that are rooted in bodily flourishing:

  • What kind of fasting practice will honor my body’s safety and well-being?
  • What kind of fasting practice will help me better perceive my body and its needs as good gifts, just as they are?
  • What kind of fasting practice will promote liberation, justice, and bodily flourishing for my whole community, especially for our most vulnerable and disempowered members?

Read the rest here.

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