by Elle Dowd
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
The prophet Isaiah asks this in verse 2 of our lectionary reading for Lent 3. Isaiah could just as well have written these words today. In our current context of Late Stage Capitalism in the United States, we have been sold a false narrative time and time again. This narrative tells us that our worth is in what we produce. That we must grind, hustle, work ourselves to death. That any moment we rest or take time for ourselves or our relationships is a waste of productivity, and we should feel guilty about it. And when we begin to feel that guilt or we begin to feel unease at our lack of fulfilment, Capitalism is there to cure what ails us by writing a prescription that says, “CONSUME.” If we just work longer hours on less sleep, we can earn that bigger bank account or smaller body and FINALLY be happy. Capitalism creates a structure of overwork that makes us miserable, and then swindles us by telling us the way to cure our misery is to buy our way out of it.
And so we work for things that don’t satisfy us. We buy things that don’t fix our problems.
But as Isaiah says in verse 9, as the heavens are higher than the earth, God’s ways are higher than our own ways. God’s ways are higher than the false god of a system that refuses to provide for people’s basic needs, forcing them to labor away in unsafe and unhealthy conditions. God’s way is higher than soul-sucking workaholism. God’s way is better than consumerism or commercialism.
When capitalism riles up in us a fear of scarcity that leads to rugged individualism and causes us to turn in on ourselves, God’s way is higher. God’s way is the way of community and abundance.
When capitalism guilts us into neverending work, God’s way is higher. God’s way is the way of rest, of Sabbath, of deep breaths, of breaks, of restoration of relationships and body and spirit.
When capitalism sells us products to try to patch up the emptiness in our hearts by filling up our homes with things, God’s way is higher. God’s way is the way of the free gift of grace, the promise of life abundant, and cups filled to overflowing.
When capitalism tells us our worth is in what we can produce, God’s way is higher. God reminds us that we are worthy because we are made in the image and likeness of God (a God who rested!), and that we are claimed as God’s own, and loved beyond measure.
Instead of treating Lent like a Jesusy New Year’s Resolution, inherently wrapped up in not being or having “enough”, what if we looked at Lent differently? Lent doesn’t have to be about punishing ourselves for our mortal frailty. Lent can be a love story, a 40 day intimate date where we recommit ourselves to God and God’s people. Interestingly enough, the word דָּבְקָ֣ה in Psalm 63:8, translated as “clings,” is the same language used in Genesis 2:24 to describe the way a lover clings to their loved one in the Creation story.
Gen. 2:24 Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh.
Psa. 63:8 My soul clings to you;
your right hand upholds me.
We can cling to God, knowing that God did become one with us in the flesh in the person of Jesus Christ through the incarnation.
Our Psalmist today gives us examples of ways to cling to God, to carve that time out, to dwell in God’s love for us. We can take up Lenten practices and disciplines that remind us of our worth by reconnecting us with God and one another. When we pause to praise God, to call out to God, to meditate, to sing, we are not only serving God, we are talking back to Empire and reclaiming our identity as children of God, loved for who we are, not for what we produce.
And in a society that pushes go, go, go, Lent is counter-cultural.
Lent is a time out.
Lent is resistance.
Because it is so countercultural, Lent can seem daunting, even if we don’t treat it like a time of punishment. But remember, we do not have to do this on our own. We can gather together in our community during this time. Maybe your community gathers more frequently during Lent, adding a Wednesday service or other special time to come together. And in addition to our church communities, as our reading from 1 Corinthians reminds us, we can look to history for company and remember that we are a part of a great cloud of witnesses who tried to figure this thing out. We can learn from the lessons of our ancestors, learn from their mistakes. And we can also look to the saints to learn from their examples of faithfulness.
And God, also, is with us. Like in the parable of the fig tree, God holds in tension the urgency of things that need to happen RIGHT NOW (Liberating the oppressed! Freeing the captives! Healthcare! Abolition! Climate Justice!) and also patiently time and time again giving us one more year, one more try, over and over. And God will give us the shit we need (see Luke 13:8 haha) to work towards a kingdom come on earth as it is in Heaven.
Realistically we won’t practice Lent perfectly this year. And that is ok. Rest takes work when you aren't used to it. Liberation takes practice. And God is there with us, through it all.