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March 2019 Family Ministries by Kathy E. Smith

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Unitarian Universalists and Lent

Words to Live By

Whether or not you religiously observe the season of Lent, as Unitarian Universalists we are always called to a healthy spiritual discipline that heals the brokenness of our lives and our world.

In this time of contemplation, we are invited to re-center ourselves and our spiritual communities. We are invited to ask:
What’s in our heart? What brings us joy? Where are our strongest relationships? What promises do we keep? How are we called to nurture and heal our world? - UU minister De Vandiver, longtime community minister in New Orleans

In the Catholic tradition, Lent is 40 days of fasting, moderation, self-discipline, and repentance.  People will often give up a bad habit like smoking or try to add a good habit like not watching television. The spiritual purpose of Lent is “to repent of sin, renew our faith, and prepare to celebrate joyfully the mystery of our salvation” (Father William Saunders,

Since Unitarian Universalists do not generally speak of “repenting of sin” or “celebrating our salvation”, we may think of Lent as an archaic practice that doesn’t apply to us. However, progressive Christian theology addresses Lent differently. “I imagine Lent for you and for me as a great departure from the greedy, anxious anti-neighborliness of our economy, a great departure from our exclusionary politics that fears the other, a great departure from self-indulgent consumerism that devours creation.” (Walter Brueggemann, A Way other than Our Own)
In her article Lenten Disciplines, Rev. Melanie Morel-Ensminger wrote: “While Lent does not have the same meaning in a Unitarian Universalist setting that it does in an orthodox Christian context, it is not meaningless.  Each and every one of us is called (by God, the Spirit, our Higher Power, our Better Nature) to be our very best self … Lent can be a healthy spiritual discipline leading to our betterment, to our reaching closer to that wholeness we all seek.”

So Unitarian Universalists may practice Lent in this more liberal sense: not a practice of self-denial, but creating an opening for deeper understanding, broader connections, greater creativity, or decreased consumption. What if you asked yourself, what habits do I have that keep me from feeling deeply connected to my family, my friends, or the larger world? What habits do I have that keep me from being as creative as I would like to be? What do I consume too much of – what is unhealthy for me or for the earth?  Could I give up one of those things for 40 days?

Other Unitarian Universalists might start a daily reflection (or prayer or meditation).  What if each night, you asked three questions:  Where did I see love, compassion, or human goodness today? How did I contribute to love, compassion, or human goodness today? What one thing did I do today, that I might do differently or better tomorrow?

What if we re-imagined Lent, reclaimed it as part of our Christian heritage?  What difference might we make in the world, if for 40 days (plus six Sundays), we focused our intention on specific acts of connection, creativity, or compassion?  I’d love to hear what you have tried, and how the experience has changed you.