I think and look back during our current pandemic, rising to its heights in the US during this Holy Week, to previous seasons of Lent. I really only started paying attention to Lent over the past 16-ish years. We didn’t observe Lent when and where I was raised, so, I don’t have that many seasons to remember.
As I learned to practice Lenten disciplines, I started simply. Of course, I’ve given up the standards over the years: soda, sweets, etc. During one of the earliest years, I gave up pork and beef; honestly, I haven’t eaten either since. I’ve also tried the add-on approach, adding a spiritual discipline during the 40-day season. Those are also meant to become lifestyle changes.
This year’s Lent has been unusual to say the least. Our congregation shared practices for each day that offer ways to give and receive love. Beyond paying attention to our in-house schedule of loving deeds, I haven’t been very intentional about my Lenten focus. Maybe because being under a “shelter in place” order feels a lot like working through spiritual disciplines.
For now, my most pressing focus is the daily process of deciding how to answer the question, “what is necessary?” as a guide to what I must do in order to support my household while being a good citizen. I’m a very conscientious soul, so you won’t find me walking around any of the places that do remain open. I try to order everything we need for our time at home to be delivered. If it can’t be delivered, I order for curbside, zero-contact pickup. Then, I obsessively wipe off items with alcohol or bleach wipes, quarantine pantry items to a certain section before folding them into use, bring no boxes or plastic bags inside, wash all produce, and, of course, wash my hands many multiple times throughout the day.
But there remains that question of what is necessary. It’s clear from this experience that I have not lived as simply as I thought I did. I’m used to getting whatever I want, whenever I want it, frankly. And not everything I want is necessary. Granted, I have done lots of internal work over the years, taming what I refer to as my “wanter.” Still, I’ve had to catch myself, every single day, and redirect my own thoughts and behaviors away from what I want towards what is necessary. And this is coming from a person who lives quite simply in comparison to our cultural standards. I can imagine how challenging it might be for someone who has never considered a simple life as any sort of goal or standard.
Answering the question of what is necessary has implications during this time of global pandemic far beyond a typical Lenten fast. When we choose what is necessary, we face potentially deadly consequences – not just for ourselves but for those we love most. We don’t know how we might be affected if we are infected … it’s a gamble. The odds are good that we’ll be ok but the risk is steep. If I blow my Lenten fast and eat chocolate, no one gets hurt. If I blow the shelter in place order and get sick, the potential for my own hurt as well as posing a danger to others, including my own child, is too great a risk.
So, I look forward to Resurrection Sunday and all that it signifies for those of us who love and follow Jesus: victory over death, an assurance of eternal life, promises of Christ’s reign and our co-inheritance in His kingdom … We have nothing to fear and everything to celebrate! And I will celebrate with my congregation by conference call this week. Because, while Jesus has already ushered in the kingdom of God on earth through his own ministry, death and resurrection, we, the Church, remain in this in-between time, waiting for the full restoration of creation.
So, how do we honor God best during this global crisis coinciding with our Christian celebration of the defeat of death AND the defeat of the FEAR of death? I think this is precisely where we are … Jesus rose from the dead and our day is coming. For now, though, we see our loved ones die. At this moment, we are seeing way too many beloveds dying at an alarming rate. We hear folks saying “faith over fear” as a motto. This doesn’t imply that we should test God by behaving in ways that risk lives during a known, deadly pandemic. It means that we know that death is not the end and we don’t live in fear of it. Life is precious. We humans are a peculiar mixture of resilience and vulnerability.
We can prove our resilience without testing one another’s vulnerability. Faith and grace and hope and love are our soul’s champions in this time in-between. We must employ them in all of our thoughts and prayers and behaviors each day for as long as this trial lasts – and beyond. These godly characteristics are as necessary as anything that might draw us away from home or that we might have waiting in our online shopping carts. But faith, grace, hope and love are necessities with something none of the items we scramble to buy will ever have: eternal value.