Eco-Justice Ministries  

Eco-Justice Notes
The E-mail Commentary from Eco-Justice Ministries

Lenten Disciplines
distributed 3/4/11 - ©2011

Developing a mature spiritual life is not easy.

Saying that goes against the grain of most marketing strategies, which promise an easy path to weight loss, health and fitness, clean floors and bright teeth, all with the absolute minimum of time or effort. (Despite the marketing claims, though, actually achieving most of those goals is not quick or easy, either.)

Virtually all of the world's religions are honest that it takes time and dedication to nurture a rich spirituality. All religions have expectations for baseline practices of worship, prayer and study. Most traditions also have more challenging spiritual disciplines which go beyond the ordinary. There are varied forms of individual disciplines (an indigenous vision quest, Hindu practices of asceticism for the elderly, or the Islamic hajj) and special times of community observance within a ritual calendar (the dances of Pueblo feast days, or the rituals of Jewish high holy days).

In the Christian tradition, the season of Lent is the most widely observed time when believers are encouraged to work harder and dig deeper in their faith. The forty days from Ash Wednesday to Easter are an occasion when churches offer special programs for study and prayer, and when individuals take on actions to increase their devotion or strengthen their commitment.

Those spiritual practices can be designed to re-root the believer in the core doctrines and practices of the faith. In that way, Lent can be a very conservative time, hearkening back to traditional writings, old hymns and familiar rituals.

But Lent can also be a season for spiritual discovery, for the exploration of new behaviors, and for a prayerful critique of established beliefs. In particular, Lent can be an opportunity to re-connect matters of faith with the realities of how we live in the modern world. And indeed, many Christians today are claiming Lent as a season for spiritual disciplines that guide us toward a more ecological faith and practice.

This Lent, I am committing to two different spiritual disciplines that I expect will help to connect my faith with life as part of Earth community. I invite you to consider some variation on them for yourself and your family.

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Fasting -- going without, or getting along with less -- is an ancient and almost universal spiritual practice. It is a way to become aware of our needs and our appetites, to cultivate gratitude, and to be confessional about the excesses of our desires and consumption.

A "carbon fast" is a wonderful new expression of that traditional discipline which brings a spiritual component to the practical necessity of reducing our Earth-destroying use of fossil fuels. I know of many congregations that have invited their members to take part in such fasts in recent years. They have been very pleased that a calendar of intentional and effective steps toward energy stewardship has also fostered a deeper and more relevant faith.

This year, an Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast offers that spiritual discipline to a broader community. Beginning Ash Wednesday and throughout Lent, participants will receive a daily email with the day's suggested carbon-reducing activity. When possible, this will include a quantitative measure of the carbon reduction resulting from the activity.

I invite and encourage you to sign up for the daily emails, and to use each of the suggested activities as an occasion for behavior change and spiritual reflection. I have subscribed to the email series, and I look forward to the information and encouragement that they will provide. Please join me in this discipline.

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Intentional study, whether individually or within a group, has always been a recommended Lenten discipline. Those who hunger for a renewed faith that is relevant in this time of environmental crisis can enter into a time of focused study during Lent to stimulate and guide their theological and moral development.

Through the coming weeks, I am committing myself to a particular course of disciplined and intentional reading. I have started into the wonderful new book, Moral Ground: Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril. During Lent, I will pace my reading so that I move slowly enough through the book to be moved and challenged by the essays, and quickly enough that I finish the volume by Easter.

Moral Ground brings together the testimony of over eighty visionaries -- theologians and religious leaders, naturalists, scientists, elected officials, business leaders, activists, and writers -- to present a compelling call to honor our individual and collective moral responsibility to the planet. Every one of the essays deals with some aspect of the question, "Do we have a moral obligation to take action to protect the future of a planet in peril?" The responses are grouped into 14 sections, each with a different slant on the answer of "Yes". The 40 days of Lent provide about three days to savor and ponder the perspectives and insights of each section.

I received Moral Ground as a Christmas gift, and I am looking forward to Lent as a time to continue reading it well. From my start into the book, I heartily recommend it for your Lenten reading, and I invite your correspondence if you choose to read it.

Moral Ground is just one of many excellent books that can stimulate faithful reflection. Perhaps there is a book sitting on your desk or shelf that would be an especially appropriate choice for your prayerful reading this spring.

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Developing a mature spiritual life is not easy -- but it is rewarding. I pray that the coming 40 days of Lent will be a time when you will enter into some form of disciplined practice that deepens the environmental aspects of your faith.


Peter Sawtell
Executive Director
Eco-Justice Ministries

I was honored and delighted to be interviewed for the documentary film, Mother: Caring Our Way Out of the Population Dilemma. The movie is now starting to circulate to film festivals -- including 45 seconds of so of my religious insights. For our friends in the Denver area who are interested in population issues, there will be a screening of the movie at 4 PM on Sunday, March 13 as part of the Women & Film Voices Film Festival.

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Eco-Justice Ministries ended all programming on July 31, 2020. This site is an archive of writings and resources.
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