Thursday, April 14, 2011

Lent: Simplicity and contentment

Lent is a time for the deliberate discipleship of our desires through refraining and focusing. Often this is portrayed as a somewhat arbitrary burden to be carried, as though the carrying of a burden were itself good. But fasting (or refraining from some regular activity) is not an end in itself, but a means to sharpen our hungering and thirsting for righteousness, for God’s justice. Such disciplines as we accept for this period are not meritorious works of supererogation earning divine brownie points, nor do we seek out pain so as to enjoy the relief from it all the more at its end. We are, in Rowan Williams’ evocative phrase, setting out on "a journey into joy". Lent is a time of preparation for the good news of Easter, but in the light of the cross and resurrection, we discover that the very disciplining of our desires is already good news, not merely preparation for it. The gospel does not add ethics as an appendix, the fine print of obedience you sign up for when you accept the gift of forgiveness. No, ethics is already good news. The disciplining of desire is also the liberation of desire; by learning self-control, we become free. We are learning to love rightly and so learning to be more human.

I submit that a key aspect of this joyful journey for many western Christians is an exodus of liberation from consumerism, the state of bondage in which we are consumed by what we consume. Our toys so often own us. In such a context, learning to delight in less is an affirmation of a life with more of the things that matter. The simple life is not only a matter of justice (living simply so that others can simply live) – though it is certainly that in a world of ever more apparent ecological limits – the simple life is also the good life. Receiving all God’s gifts with thanks enables us to let (many of) them go and to let go the desire for more that makes us discontent. Let us instead become discontent with our discontentment, which robs of us of peace and perspective.

The pursuit of justice, insofar as it is woven within the Christian good news, is also part of this same joyous adventure. It is not a fight, but a dance. We do not create it or establish it; we share from what we have ourselves received. Our goal is not the spread of consumerist “wealth” to every member of society and every corner of the globe. Our goal is that in walking the way of the cross, all may discover it to be the way of light.

Not yet concrete enough? Go and sell your possessions, then come follow Christ.
Originally posted at Theopolis.