This year, Lent has collided with the unexpected, unfolding news of the coronavirus outbreak.
A collective groundswell of anxiety clouds our nation as we await minute-by-minute news updates for resolution to our fears. As of this week, our churches, schools, and communities have stopped in-person gatherings in order to keep the virus at bay.
As governmental leaders and faith communities respond to this unprecedented pandemic, individuals and families also are doing our part: hand washing, social distancing, community thinking.1 Yet at the same time, we’ve captured a magnifying glass to cultural strongholds: our addiction to certainty, our habituated individualism, and readiness for racial bias. We see the glaring inequities in our health care system keeping the most vulnerable (the immunocompromised, the elderly, those without financial means, etc.) at risk, racial and economic disparities, anti-Asian bias and prejudice, and a pronounced susceptibility towards scarcity and greed.
Barbara Brown Taylor speaks of “Lent” coming from an English word that means “springtime.” She references the spring buds pushing their way out of the dirt before Easter, but also the “greening of the human soul” that is fertilized and nourished with repentance, fasting, self-examination, and prayer.
In this critical moment in time, the church must re-examine our interconnectedness to one another as a global family. We must move from an individualized “greening of our human soul” and move towards a collective “greening” of our shared humanity. Any inward spiritual practice must move us to outward practices of compassion, mercy, and abundance towards our neighbors.Any inward spiritual practice must move us to outward practices of compassion, mercy, and abundance towards our neighbors. Click To Tweet
In our repentance, and in our fasting, are we confronting our internalized greed, entitlement, and scarcity? In our self-examination and in our prayer, are we present to the most vulnerable, whom Jesus identifies as “the least of these”? In our faith communities, how are we following the way of Jesus—the way of abundance, sacrificial love, and compassion?
In my own wrestling with anxiety, fear, and scarcity, I’ve leaned on the following four spiritual practices to ground me in embodied abundance towards my neighbor:
Breath prayer,2 or Prayer of the Heart, is an ancient practice dating back centuries. Breath prayer is a simple, easily repeatable (eight to eleven-syllable) prayer linked to the rhythm of breathing that expresses a heartfelt desire before God. Some examples of my own this month:
- Breathing in: “God of Love”; breathing out, “Heal your children”
- Breathing in, “Mother/Father”; breathing out, “Have mercy”
- Breathing in, “Jesus/Immanuel”; breathing out, “You are here/with me”
Unplug and Look Up/Out
Take intentional time to unplug from technology, social media, and the news to look up/go outside.3 For many of us, we are so used to instant notifications and quick access to information that putting down our phones is one of the most difficult practices to enact. In this practice, I turn my phone off completely and change my environment (by going outside, taking a walk, or bringing myself into a life-giving space). I seek out solitude and take time to listen to what’s going on within me (my inner being) in the presence of God. Looking up and looking out becomes a natural pathway for me to seek God as I actively notice the Divine in anything I see, feel, hear, or touch. Detaching myself from my phone and technology removes the filters that distort my ability to see people as God’s beloved children.
Looking up and looking out becomes a natural pathway for me to seek and see God. Detaching myself from my phone and technology removes the filters that distort my ability to see people as God’s beloved children. Click To Tweet
From Clenched Fists to Open Hands
This embodied practice is a tool for cultivating compassion for yourself and others. In this exercise, I move from clenching my fists to opening my hands.4 In clenching my fists, I imagine the many ways I am resistant to God’s love for me (such as finding my worth in others’ opinions, attaching my identity in what I have or do), or my neighbor (such as any internalized narratives of oppression, any reason to hate or reject someone in my life, or any conflict that stirs up greater scarcity). When I open my hands, I receive God’s love again for myself, I am surrendered and open to God’s abundance. When I open my hands, I also actively claim the belovedness of others—I imagine myself to be a carrier and reservoir of God’s grace. I can practice this movement anywhere—in line at the grocery store (while practicing social distancing), during a tense conversation with a friend, as my toddler kids are turning my house upside down, for example. The practice creates an embodied movement for transformation and over the years has been one of the easiest ways I open myself up to God’s love.
Lean Into the Margins
This is a non-negotiable practice for followers of Jesus—we are called to engage practices that embody justice, peacemaking, compassion, and reconciliation. We must ask ourselves, Who around me is the most vulnerable and in need? How can I show up in practical ways that help this individual/community? How can I educate myself with stories and facts told directly by the people in these communities? How can I support organizers and leaders who are proximate to those Jesus would be closest to? On a domestic, national, and global scale, I take the energy from my anxiety to transform it for good, towards advocating, standing in solidarity, and serving those on the margins in my community and neighborhood.5
May we move from a cognitive theology of loving God and neighbor to actually embodying it with our actions and lives. Click To Tweet
These four practices have been a helpful starting point in combating the anxiety and fear that are eager to seep into my soul in this time of crisis.
In my home, I have a cross mirroring the ashes many of us received on our foreheads at the beginning of Lent. More than ever, this sign of the cross is a reminder of our vertical relationship to God and our horizontal responsibility to one another. May the intersection of Lent and this global pandemic reframe and reclaim our call as people of God. May we move from clenched fists of scarcity to open hands of abundance. May we reach for compassion against narratives of fear. May we ground ourselves in the sacrificial love of Christ. May we move from a cognitive theology of loving God and neighbor to actually embodying it with our actions and lives. Amen.
 Brown, B., We’re All In This Together
 Barton, R. H., Sacred Rhythms
 Peace, R., Noticing God
 Nouwen, H. Life of the Beloved
 Kim, G. J-S., Healing Our Broken Humanity