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Lenten Reflection - Ash Wednesday

Lenten Reflection:  Christian Simplicity


Lent 4.5 SimplicityWeekly Reflection 

“For this reason I say to you, do not be worried about your life, as to what you will eat or what you will drink; nor for your body, as to what you will put on.  Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing?”  Matthew 6:25

We spend our lives, it seems, trying to understand the concept of “enough.”  From the time our children are very small we try to help them to recognize it – enough chocolate, enough play, enough fiddling, enough time awake, and enough toys. 

All the while our culture encourages “more” as the operative attitude.  Super-sized drinks and burgers, generous houses regardless of family-size, a second and third vehicle, the newest technology, smart phones, thinner computers.

A pause is needed to examine how “more is better” impacts the way we care for our Earth and how we see our neighbors. 

The 1972 Apollo 17 image of our planet from space – the first time we clearly “saw ourselves” fully illumined and beautiful – has shaped us in profound ways.  Before this we had only mental images of our planet.  But with photo proof we can no longer doubt the essential unity of our world.  From this great distance our “Blue Marble” shows no country demarcations, no highways, grand cities or garbage dumps.  What we can see, though, is that what happens in one area is sure to affect the other lands in a great chain of interconnectedness. 

Twenty years later we received an even more amazing image.  In 1990, as its trajectory took it out of our solar system, Voyager 1 “looked back” with its cameras at our lovely Earth.  That image, a tiny spot captured in a ray of our sun, is what renowned astronomer Carl Sagan dubbed our “pale blue dot.” 

He reflected: 
“That's here. That's home. That's us. On it, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever lived, lived out their lives. The aggregate of all our joys and sufferings, thousands of confident religions, ideologies and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilizations, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every hopeful child, every mother and father, every inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every superstar, every supreme leader, every saint and sinner in the history of our species, lived there on a mote of dust, suspended in a sunbeam.  The earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.”

Carl Sagan, Pale Blue Dot: A Vision of the Human Future in Space, p. 6

Perhaps such a vantage point helps us get a concrete grasp on our interrelatedness with all God’s people and all God’s creation.  But does it provide “enough” heart-connection to compel us to care what happens to our sister half the blue-marble away?  Or whether our brother’s children have enough to eat in a city just miles south of us?  Could it be that these unnamed people are our relatives?

Christian simplicity is all about believing that “enough” is a blessing of God’s giving.  Christian simplicity teaches us that “enough” is, in truth, “bounty” when we see through the lens of God’s giftedness.  

As we enter into the Season of Lent this week, we hear a call to conversion, to “prayer, fasting and almsgiving.”  Each of these three practices provide a doorway into Christian simplicity and an opportunity to show our solidarity with all people, all creation.  Let us open our hearts to a different way of experiencing the world as we listen to God through prayer.  Let us struggle a little with the experience of “too little” as we fast from food or from another form of plenty.  And even if it seems a tiny bit, we can share something of what we have – because God has given us many blessings!

We can make a commitment this week to a small step – using no plastic bags, eliminating shopping trips that reap no “extra” bargains, selecting a refillable coffee cup, caring for someone in need who is not part of your circle of friends or family.  Any choice for solidarity, any movement toward heart-transformation, yields fruit not just for ourselves or those around us, but for unseen others on our Blue Marble.

When we get “too full”, when we’ve missed the bar of “enough” and have reached for “more,” we can get lost in the world of things rather than celebrating in the world of people and the beauty of creation.  Simplify and nurture your inner resources.  Simplify and reach out to others.  Happiness arises out of doing what is good and right.  It grows from internal balance and internal peace.


Lent Church programThis Week’s Practice: 

Choose a Cloth Bag Instead of Plastic

Plastic grocery bags are convenient, light and water resistant.  They are generally “free,” double- bagged for strength, and end up filling our closets or trash cans.  It is estimated that each year world citizens use nearly one trillion such bags.  Many of us are resourceful in reusing these grocery bags a second or third time.  But the truth is that only a small percentage are actually recycled, even when they are collected by your local store. 

South Africa has such a problem with plastic bags that they are called the “national flower.”

China refers to them as white trash.  I suspect that few of us enjoy seeing a plastic bag flapping in the wind, tangled high in an otherwise beautiful tree.   Few of us would be happy to know that they are a major cause of large marine life death – some estimate 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from mistaking a bag for edible food and ingesting it.  It has been documented that even some scavenging land animals, such as cows in India, starve to death because they have eaten a plastic bag that subsequently blocks their digestive track. 

We see them everywhere.  Bags litter our beaches, roadsides, and neighborhood flower beds.

Plastic bags, clogging drainage systems, were found to be the primary culprit during the 1988 and 1998 floods in Bangladesh.  Over 80 cities and towns in California have restricted or banned plastic bags. In November of 2012 the government of Delhi, India, home to 17 million people, banned the use of all plastic bags in a strong attempt to deal with their role in polluting land and water.  In Ireland a 15 cent charge for bags reduced their usage by 90%.   Many other countries have made massive strides in adopting legislation that deals with this environmental hazard. 

The process of manufacturing plastic bags requires a great deal of energy and creates pollution, and plastic bags are even made from petroleum, a non-renewable natural resource, so we are double-dipping on oil—not exactly what we want to do!  In addition, by most estimates, it takes 1000 years in landfill and 450 years in water for a plastic bag to decompose.  Unfortunately, since modern landfills are designed so that nothing really breaks down, plastic garbage bags will remain intact, with trash inside, so that our grandchildren’s grandchildren will be forced to determine a way to clean up after our carelessness.

Plastic or paper for purchases?  Really, the most effective way each of us can make an impact regarding the production and use of plastic bags is to shift our own personal habit.  When making a run to the store we need to ask:  Do I need a bag for that?  Do I need it double bagged?  Oops!  Let me get my cloth bags out of my car!

Think and choose.  One person at a time our “mindfulness” makes a difference for our beautiful planet!

Useful sources:





Church Lent program

Churches in Action:

Kids Create Cloth Bag Art

St. William Church in Louisville, Kentucky has created cloth and canvas bags for years.  After learning about the hazard of plastic bags, parish children decided they wanted to make a difference.  They took blank, store-bought canvas bags and decorated them with cheerful peace-filled designs.  During different project times they used acrylic paint and potato-prints, permanent markers, and fabric paint.   Each finished piece, a child’s true work of art, was sold “at cost” to parishioners to encourage the use of cloth over plastic bags.

You can do it too! 

Useful sites for making your own cloth bags:




Church Lent programWhat Churches Are Saying

This Ash Wednesday offers a little ‘time outside of time’ to turn our attention to the ways our actions connect with our whole human family.  This season of deepened ritual and a call to conversion, gives us hope that though we walk with Jesus to the cross, we are also invited to new life in the resurrection.   We are the Body of Christ.  Read what some of our leaders and congregational documents have to say about living with awareness and in Christian simplicity.   

Presbyterian Church U.S.A. (www.pcusa.org/)

Excerpted from the 202nd General Assembly (1990) Report: Restoring Creation for Ecology and Justice

 “The church has powerful reason for engagement in restoring God’s creation:

  • God’s works in creation are too wonderful, too ancient, too beautiful, too good to be desecrated.
  • Restoring creation is God’s own work in our time, in which God comes both to judge and to restore.
  • The Creator-Redeemer calls faithful people to become engaged with God in keeping and healing the creation, human and non-human.
  • Human life and well-being depend upon the flourishing of other life and the integrity of the life-supporting processes that God has ordained.
  • The love of neighbor, particularly ‘the least’ of Christ’s brothers and sisters, requires action to stop the poisoning, the erosion, the wastefulness that are causing suffering and death.”

“Therefore, the 202nd General Assembly affirms that:

  • ... Earth-keeping today means insisting on sustainability – the ongoing capacity of natural and social systems to thrive together – which requires human beings to practice wise, humble, responsible stewardship, after the model of servanthood that we have in Jesus. …”

Roman Catholic Church (http://conservation.catholic.org/)

Excerpted from Pope John Paul II’s The Ecological Crisis: A Common Responsibility.

“Respect for life and for the dignity of the human person also extends to the rest of creation, which is called to join man in praising God.”

“We cannot interfere in one area of the ecosystem without paying due attention both to the consequences of such interference in other areas and to the well-being of future generations.”

“It is manifestly unjust that a privileged few should continue to accumulate excess goods, squandering available resources, while masses of people are living in conditions of misery at the very lowest level of subsistence. Today, the dramatic threat of ecological breakdown is teaching us the extent to which greed and selfishness – both individual and collective – are contrary to the order of creation, an order which is characterized by mutual interdependence.”

“Simplicity, moderation and discipline, as well as a spirit of sacrifice, must become a part of everyday life, lest all suffer the negative consequences of the careless habits of a few.”

Prayer for Ash Wednesday

Creator God,
you have blessed our Earth
and made all things good.
You have entrusted to us
a responsibility for your creation
and all its creatures.
Teach us to always use
the things of this Earth
with care, not negligence,
with gratitude, not arrogance,
with simplicity, not excess.
Guide us in the ways of Jesus.

Imagine if the Earth were divided equally among all of us. Each person would receive 4.5 acres. Now imagine that everything you need – food, energy, home, clothing, gadgets – must come from those 4.5 acres. But it takes 22.3 acres to maintain the average American lifestyle.There is a new way of observing Lent that helps us care for God’s creation by taking steps toward using only our fair share of its resources. Moving in the direction of 4.5 is essential for anyone walking in the footsteps of Jesus today.

Our Ministry

Lent 4.5 is a seven-week faith formation program which inspires and informs Christian communities on how to use the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting and almsgiving to protect God’s creation, embrace Gospel justice and nurture spiritual fulfillment. It offers practical opportunities for people of faith to apply the values of Christian Simplicity to their everyday lives.

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Ash Wednesday: Christian Simplicity

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