Marking the beginning of the Easter season, worshipers go to church on Ash Wednesday (often still recovering from Fat Tuesday) and get ash spread on their foreheads. The ash is a symbol of contrition and repentance. Then everyone is expected to give up meat and beer and act gloomy for the next 6 weeks. Sound like fun? No wonder Mardi Gras is so popular!
But when you think about it, a collective confession can be incredibly meaningful in light of our complicity in greenhouse gas emissions. The tradition of Lent has potential for inspiring action. In addition to repentance, the ritual of smearing carbon on faces can visually represent the carbon we are contributing in our daily lives. The following are some reformulations of the elements of Lent with a green focus. (These principles are intended to be helpful to people of any faith background or none at all.)
- Confession. You’ve been incredibly good this year. You’ve spent countless hours poring over the Green Options blogs. You’ve made many changes to your lifestyle. For the CO2 you are guilty of emitting, you have purchased carbon offsets. You’ve even worked on promoting public policy aimed at a greener tomorrow. It is OK to be proud of yourself for being well on your way to carbon neutrality. But it helps to participate in a rhythm, every now and then, once a year, looking at how far we need to go as a society. Now that green is mainstream, green-washing and half-a**ing our way to a warmer planet is a new concern. Even if I were carbon neutral, I am still throwing my sustainably earned dollar into a carbon-spewing economy. Small doses of intentional reflection and confession every now and then keep us grounded and healthy.
- Fasting. For those of us who don’t yet have a Nobel in our pockets, a certain amount of giving something up for a specified amount of time has a centering effect. By the way, if I ever get a Nobel Prize, I’m totally carrying it around in my pocket. Anyway, this practice provides clarity to see what we really need and don’t need. I learned how few luxuries I really need last summer/fall as I backpacked the entire Appalachian Trail for 4 ½ months, hiking from Maine to Georgia. I didn’t even take coffee because I didn’t want to carry anything unnecessary. Even when I don’t have to lug it around in a backpack, I still limit my coffee consumption. (Note: I’m certainly not a locavore fundamentalist. I adore all things tropical. I think Equal Exchange is a more than worthy alternative to abstinence!) Rather than thinking of it as austere self-denial to achieve some higher spiritual plane, I think of these “fasts” as temporary periods when I evaluate my consumptive habits. It helps me rediscover gratitude and happiness in non-material things. If you are a traditional Lent observer, you might think of going without meat as a way to reflect on the effects of factory farming on the environment. If you want to try something crazy, try going without corn—it’s more difficult than you think! The purpose is to go an extra step for a short period of time to foster a more mindful lifestyle year-round.
- Hope. Of course, the solemn and gloomy practice of observing Lent is tempered with the hope that Easter is coming, which offers the expectation that things will get better, and not just because on Easter we break our fasts. We’re working together toward better days ahead and believe that we can do it together. Ultimately, we’re envisioning a better future and then living into the vision. This yearly rhythm is a good way to stay sharp.
- More info: Christians Told: Give up Carbon for Lent
Photo credit: fish burger