There is no doubt that human beings fail to live up to our highest ideals. Open a newspaper, listen to the radio or see a photo on Instagram, and you hear a story of human brokenness or see deliberate choices to hurt or destroy. Despite the call to love neighbour as self, we succumb to greed, fear, jealousy or anger in a variety of ways. In addition to our deliberate faults, we live in and share the web of generational pain—the inherited results of intentional and unintentional consequences of the sin of others.
Every year Lent provides us with the opportunity for intentional self-examination. Sometimes that leads us to personal transformation of a habit or practice that draws us away from God. Other times it shines a light on our part in systemic sinfulness in which we are embedded, a sinfulness that will require consistent and persistent action in order to transform what we see. Each decade reveals how we have been blinded to the consequences of our actions. A past generation saw DDT as the solution to insect control only to discover its toxicity. In another era, we allowed sexual and physical abuse to live in residential schools and did not recognize the harm in denying Indigenous cultures. In this generation, we are learning how our pollution of the planet is poisoning our lives and changing our climate. We have wiped out species in the animal kingdom needed for healthy biodiversity. The times have changed, but the pattern has not.
Somehow, individual sins are easier to look at. There is a direct sense of God’s compassion and forgiveness and an ability to make changes—to see our humanity and direct it in new ways. It is harder to recognize how we participate in systemic evils until the prophetic voices rise up in our midst to name them. It can take many such voices before we hear them—and even more before we are willing to make changes.
Where are those voices today? Greta Thunberg and Senator Murray Sinclair come to mind quickly. Both speak about injustices they see that need changing, which requires the changing of attitudes and behaviours from the whole of society. Their voices are bold and articulate.
Whether we are being challenged with individual sinfulness or awoken to the challenges of sin embedded in our daily lives and actions, Lent invites us to awareness and commitment to change. It is not as simple as being told your seatbelt is undone and buckling up—for no one likes to recognize their failures or sin, and we generally want to shoot the messenger! John the Baptist did not fare well when he pointed out Herod’s sin in marrying Herodias. It requires the humility to acknowledge we have failed. We have failed to live into our call in Christ.
Thankfully it is not a fatal failure. God requires a willing heart to change, not perfection. Each week we are invited into confession, repentance and “newness of life.”
Every year I wait to see to what area of life God will awaken me through the voices of the prophets around me. Lent calls us to begin, in humility, with open minds and hearts prepared to hear and to see what God desires. May we enter it with a spirit willing to be shaped further into the image of Christ.