Transformation through Lenten Practice

Why do we go to Ash Wednesday services and get ashes on our forheads to remember that we are dust? Why do we fast as a form of penance during Lent?

I love spiritual practice, expressing my faith in action and showing God that I am grateful. Lent is a special time of spiritual practice for us. I have memories of being a little girl, looking forward to Fridays in Lent because each week my dad would bring home cheese pizza for dinner. I loved cheese pizza! But it seems like such a small sacrifice. We are looking toward Good Friday, when Jesus made the ultimate sacrifice for us by dying on the cross. How can not eating meat on Fridays possibly begin to address that kind of love?

When speaking to the importance of spiritual practice, I like to look at the building of the tabernacle in Exodus (Exodus 36:8-39:43). It is an important passage. The explanation of the construction process takes more time and verses than God creating the world itself. The Israelites are in exile, just escaped from slavery, and decide to build a portable house, a dwelling place for God until they arrive home. The book of Exodus is about a family becoming a nation. They shared a past, one of slavery and a common enemy, but they must move together into their uncertain future. What would remind them of their past and bind them together as they moved forward?

In exile, the Israelites complained and complained. There was no water. The water was bitter. There was no food. It got so bad, some even said they would prefer going back to being slaves than continuing on in exile. This is coming from a people who had seen miracles. God parted the Red Sea, made water appear from a rock, and appears on Mount Sinai. In response? They build a golden calf as an idol. Miracles did not work to keep their faith, so God tells Moses to ask the Israelites to contribute. While the tabernacle is being built, there are no complaints or dissensions. Giving them a task gave them a sense of identity and responsibility. There was investment and pride in their work. The work brought the people together and built cohesion that God’s miracles could not.

What the story of the tabernacle shows me, then, is it is not what God does for us, but what we do for God that transforms our community. Miracles should be enough. Waking up each morning to a beautiful world and people who love me should be enough to stop me from complaining and simply bask in the grace and glory of God. But it is not. I fall short. I complain. I become passive. To transform myself and to feel connected to my community, I must work. I must have a task. By giving to God, by showing God my love with my actions, I feel connected to those who came before me, and I move into the future connected to others who believe in the love of God through Jesus Christ.

What will your spiritual practice be this Lent? How will you show God your love? How does your spiritual practice transform you? What can you build in your community?

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