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Let us keep a holy Lent

The 40-day season of Lent begins on Ash Wednesday. This year, for Christians in the western tradition, Ash Wednesday is March 2. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter (Sunday, April 17). Observance includes commitment to “prayer, fasting and almsgiving” – realignment with the “way of Christ”, which means radical hospitality, peace-making, new life.

In a recent small group discussion at South Sydney Uniting Church, participants considered ways we might practise our Lenten disciplines together.

Prayer takes many forms. It is about attending to the Mystery of Goodness in the world, responding to the call of the Other. Prayer can be spoken, sung, enacted; expressed in silence, patience, protest, and more.

Not surprisingly, we are keen this year to sing and maybe even to dance our prayers. Perhaps we’ll engage in an art activity – drawing, painting or banner-making. We’re also keen to pray with hearts attuned to wisdom other than western Christian.

In the eastern churches, for instance, Lent begins on Monday, March 7. Orthodox Easter is April 24.

The holy day of Purim begins in the evening of March 16 and ends in the evening of March 17. Purim commemorates a time when the Jewish people were saved from death by the courage of a young woman called Esther. This year, Passover, which celebrates liberation from slavery (a God of freedom and justice), begins in the evening of Friday, April 15, and ends in the evening of Saturday, April 23.

Ramadan, a month of prayer, fasting and almsgiving observed by Muslims, is April 2 until May 1.

Faithful prayer will lament past atrocities and missed opportunities for understanding. Wise prayer will attend to religious diversity, respecting differences, delighting in common themes. Wiradjuri poet Jazz Money imagines a future in “technicolour blak black brown / turns out we’re all welcome here / queer brothers and sisters and non-binary siblings …”

By denying ourselves food at certain times, we recall the reality of hunger and the needs of the poorest. We move away from an unhealthy focus on material goods and their consumption. Fasting invites moderation, sharing, wellbeing … with gratitude for the Earth and all on whom we depend.

A communal fast might take the form of a very simple morning tea or supper (consuming less, more mindfully). Perhaps there’s a new way – words and/or actions – to give thanks for the food and drink we choose not to take for granted.

Pope Francis said: “Giving ‘alms’ is more than simply giving money; it is a matter of heart-felt concern for those in genuine need” (2016). A better word for almsgiving, then, might be advocacy. How might we advocate for others? How might we give attention/encouragement/support to others?

Act for Peace supports a program through the World Council of Churches called Ecumenical Accompaniment. The aim is to equip volunteers as protectors/advocates over three months in Palestine and Israel. The work entails preventing human rights violations, promoting peace. See

UnitingWorld offers multiple means of Lenten observance, including Seven Days of Solidarity, a “celebration of our global neighbours” which introduces participants to faithful leaders who are training others, equipping people to make a living, working for peace, raising up women and girls, empowering people with disabilities, responding to disasters and a changing climate. See

Lenten disciplines are not meant to be an indulgence in self-punishment or self-improvement. They are meant to lead us back to grace – back to one another.

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