Often, the promise that we can ‘change the world’ comes wrapped in suggestions that “For the price of a coffee a day, you can change Sanjay’s life forever.”
Is change really that easy? If it was, everyone would be doing it. The promise of transformation is attractive, but the hard work required to get there; the discipline and commitment? Not so much.
So how does real change take place?
Whether you begin with seven minutes or seventy, creating change begins with deep conviction and small steps, incorporated into daily routine. And that’s where spiritual practises can be genuinely helpful.
I remember being introduced to the concept of spiritual disciplines through the classic book by Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline. In the book, Foster unravels the path to spiritual growth based on the ancient disciplines of meditation, prayer, study, simplicity, solitude, submission, service, confession, worship, guidance and celebration. I was captivated by the freedoms each discipline opened up. This was ‘lived theology’, not endless sermons unravelling yet another text from the Scriptures. This was what it meant to actually put into practise a life like Christ’s.
My favourite time of the year to live out these disciplines is Lent.
Lasting forty days, Lent echoes the time of God’s people wandering in the wilderness, led by Moses. It reflects Jesus’ forty days in the desert, totally reliant on God and gathering strength for the challenges ahead. Perhaps it’s also a bit reminiscent of the six-week program to a ‘new you.’ But its compactness gives us a chance to reflect, renew and create change as we prepare for Easter – new life in Christ through Jesus’ death and resurrection.
In a quick fix world, there’s something solid about the traditions of Lent, and UnitingWorld’s Lent Event provides a helpful way to focus on them. Called to act, reflect and connect, I’m part of a tradition that unites me with brothers and sisters from all over the globe. At the same time, I’m making a practical contribution to the wellbeing of people who struggle with poverty, to live in peace or to live out their faith.
Lent Event is about fundraising, true. Make no mistake about it, the money donated makes a huge difference, and Uniting Church partners in some of the world’s poorest regions can’t do without it. But Lent Event is also about deep, thoughtful engagement. And that’s because deep, thoughtful engagement – with God, ourselves and others – is what actually makes a meaningful difference to individual lives and through them, to this planet.
There’s no magic bullet for entrenched problems like greed, hoarding, inequality and racism. When Jesus spent forty days in the wilderness, he didn’t return with a ‘cup of coffee a day’ solution. Footsore and hungry, he returned to the cross.
Lent offers us the opportunity to draw aside, to reflect and simplify our minds, hearts and lives. It’s a time to wrestle with ourselves and all that we’d like to be. We’re called both to give up and to take up – jettisoning the stones that are weighing us down, adding to our toolkits the virtues that give us wings.
Lenten ideas are present wherever people are serious about engaging themselves and others for deep, abiding change. Activists, policy makers, development specialists, parents, preachers, children… we all know the world isn’t the way we want it to be. And as countless wise men and women have taught: change begins with us.
If you’re serious about change, not just starry eyed about transformation, start with Lent on 1 March. I highly recommend Foster’s book, and why not join a movement of others involved in the same journey by signing up for Lent Event at the same time?
For more info visit http://www.lentevent.com.
Cath Taylor, UnitingWorld
Top image: Parnjeet (right) is one of the teachers in a Development Program run by UnitingWorld’s church partner in Amritsar, India. From the Dalit (untouchable) community, her life has been completely transformed over many years through involvement with the project.
“My own family has been changed by this project, and now we’re changing the community,” she says. “Not only have I trained to become a teacher and am encouraging children and families to understand the value of education, but my daughter has been through the program and with the support of the church, has excelled in her studies. She’s now working full-time as a nurse.”
Funds raised through Lent Event directly support the work of women like Parnjeet and her community.