Lent 4.5–Christian Simplicity is a seven-week faith formation program. It inspires and informs Christian communities on how to use the traditional Lenten disciplines of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving to protect God’s creation, bring forth a just society, and nurture a fulfilling spiritual life. It offers practical opportunities for people of faith to apply the values of Gospel simplicity to their everyday lives.
Traditionally, Lent is a 40-day retreat during which we prepare to renew our baptismal commitment so we can celebrate the paschal mystery with minds and hearts renewed. Along with the disciples, we make the journey to Jerusalem to repent of our sinful ways, die to our selfish self and undergo a conversion. By walking in the footsteps of Jesus we hope to share in the grace of Easter which restores peace and reconciliation to the world and all its inhabitants.
The prayers of gratitude, penance and quiet listening are part of Lent’s ancient tradition. Lent 4.5 leads us into prayerful gratitude for the gift of life in all its forms. It stirs a spirit of penance for the ways God’s planet has been misused. Through quiet listening we can hear the sacred voice of God once again speaking to us through creation.
Lent is a time of self-denial when Christians traditionally give up things. Lent 4.5 brings contemporary meaning and value into fasting. It suggests practical ways in which we can abstain from habits and choices that harm God’s creation. We can do more than give up chocolate for Lent. Why not fast in a way that can actually make a difference in the well-being of our world?
Almsgiving is a noble Lenten practice based on the values of charity, justice, and the common good. Each day we unwittingly make choices that affect people we will never meet – for better or for worse. Lent 4.5 offers suggestions for making small but significant changes to our lifestyle that express care for creation and concern for the common good by not taking more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources.
The ultimate goal of Lent is metanoia – a conversion of heart – leading Christians toward a deeper baptismal commitment to walk in the footsteps of Jesus who lived in right relationship with creation, others, and God. There is now a growing awareness that God’s planet is being damaged and its resources are not fairly shared. Lent 4.5 is an opportunity to support caring for creation and living more simply as essential elements of following in the footsteps of Jesus today.
Through a measuring tool called Global Footprint, we are able to assess the impact of various lifestyles upon the Earth. It is a complex process, but a simple formula. At present, there are nearly 7 billion people on the planet. If we were to divide the Earth equally among all of us, 4.5 acres would be available to each person. 4.5 acres is what we are each entitled to use. 4.5 acres is a fair share.
From that 4.5 acres each of us would have to find the wherewithal to cultivate our food, the space and materials to construct our home, the energy to heat and cool it, the water for our lawn and toilets, a place to dispose of our wastes, the timber or plastic to put together our furniture, the fibers to produce our clothes, the metals to manufacture our appliances and cars, the petroleum for our transportation, and anything needed to make our gadgets and “stuff.” 4.5 acres would be each person’s fair-share.
The Global Footprint accounting tool enables us to measure how much of the planet’s productive land and sea is required to support the average lifestyle of any country. We can use it to calculate how many acres it takes to support the lifestyle of an individual, an industry or a country. According to 2009 data, the amount of acreage it takes to support the average lifestyle varies greatly from country to country.
Germany –10.0 acres
Saudi Arabia – 8.6 acres
South Africa –6.8 acres
India – 1.9 acres
Japan – 10.2 acres
Vietnam –2.5 acres
Israel –13.3 acres
France –11.4 acres
Colombia –4.6 acres
Mexico – 8.0 acres
Canada – 14.2 acres
United States – 22.3 acres
Regardless of our personal habits of consumption, anyone who lives in North America benefits from the infrastructures, food choices, travel options, medical advantages, and conveniences of a standard of living that demands a lot more than 4.5 acres. However, if 4.5 acres is our fair share of the planet’s resources, that means others must do with less so we can maintain our level of affluence.
For a long time, many people thought that a just world would be achieved by lifting others up to our standard of living. We now know that is impossible, given the spatial restrictions and limited resources of the Earth. Estimates suggest that it would take four or five planets to accomplish that elevation in lifestyles. But we only have one.
Over the last 50 years, humans have been consuming God’s creation faster and more extensively than in any comparable period of time in human history. According to a 2010 United Nations report (Global Biodiversity Outlook 2, 2010) the natural systems of the Earth are under severe stress caused by overconsumption, and they are being degraded due to careless abuse. We have soil erosion with 30% of the world’s arable land being lost in the last 40 years. The forests are being cut at an increasing rate. The waters of our rivers, streams and oceans are turning toxic because of harmful industrial chemicals. The number of large fish in the oceans has declined by two-thirds in the last 50 years due to intensive fishing. The purity of our air is becoming polluted with dangerous emissions. As the toxic burden accumulates in people’s bodies, we are beginning to realize that humans cannot be healthy if they live on a sick planet.
We have huge global problems. We Christians in affluent countries have a faith problem. Anyone who follows in the footsteps of Jesus Christ cannot remain distant or indifferent to the consumption habits of our country. How can we share our planet with nearly 7 billion people in a way that enables all of us to live with dignity? How can we live in a way that protects God’s creation? These concerns are the heart of Lent 4.5. Our observance of prayer, fasting and almsgiving during Lent can become a direct response to global poverty and help restore the integrity of God’s creation.
Many of the habitual and daily choices we make are damaging God’s creation and producing an unjust world. The modern mindset thinks of the planet as a pre-manufactured resource, not a sacred endowment placed in our stewardship. God’s creation is typically treated as a storehouse for consumption or a dump where we can toss our waste. This mentality drives our economy and influences our purchasing decisions. We are seemingly willing to exhaust the Earth’s resources and deprive future generations in order to satisfy our ravenous desires. In this materialistic culture everything is designed to make us consumers.
The Gospel challenges us to transform the way we understand, use, and consume the substance of this planet. Jesus spoke frequently about the dangers of excessive consumption. He warned of the spiritual peril brought on by too much stuff. Lent 4.5 tries to be honest with what the Gospel says about simplicity. It offers Christians practical ways to be different from our purchase-driven society.
Simplicity does not mean moving to a cave or eating berries. Living simply means setting limits that reflect our faith values by taking only what we need – not hoarding or taking in excess. It is the path to a life that is outwardly simple and inwardly rich.
Simplicity has long been a noble Christian virtue. The Gospel clearly places a priority on the reign of God and suggests that excessive attachment or hoarding material possessions can undermine the spiritual life (Luke 6:20-25). It abounds with injunctions to resist becoming a slave to belongings (Luke 16:13-15). It suggests that accumulating too many things can result in devastating anxiety (Matthew 6:26-34). The many admonitions that warn against allowing wealth and over-consumption to become a main concern are not legalistic axioms, but guideposts to a life of freedom and spiritual fulfillment (Matthew 19:21-23).
Without simplicity, discipleship and progress in the spiritual life are not possible. Like the rich young man who was laden with an over-abundance of material possessions, we are inclined to hear the message of Jesus but forsake the path and “go away sad,” for like him we are attached to many things (Mark 10:22). Jesus reassured those who remained, explaining how simplicity can foster a fulfilling life which nurtures the inner Spirit.
When viewed through the lens of the Gospel, simplicity becomes liberating for the prosperous and life-affirming for those who are poor. Voluntarily choosing simplicity reorients our hearts toward finding a treasure that will never perish. At the same time, when the virtue of simplicity influences our personal consumption habits we can bring about a just society and protect God’s creation for generations to come. Lent is a great time to start.
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.