Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of wickedness,
to undo the straps of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover him,
and not to hide yourself from your own flesh?
To those in physical, mental or political wilderness in the time of Isaiah, God’s prophet echoes a phrase spoken by Adam upon first seeing Eve in Genesis 2:23: ‘This at last is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh!’ Genesis details how humans eat the forbidden fruit, despite God’s warning, and are cast out of the garden. The great division of relationships is three-fold; humanity finds itself isolated and apart from one another, apart from the God that it had loved, and at war with the creation that it is bound to. By Genesis 3:12, Adam’s initial song turns to a final accusation; an extension of blame to Eve (‘she told me to eat the fruit’), to God and a bitterness towards all creation.
During the Lenten pilgrimage of fasting and prayer, we are reminded of our limitations as created beings. The Genesis narrative informing us that all creatures are formed from the dust (Genesis 2:7, 9, 19). It is integral to our faith that Christians understand our God-given limitations that come with being a part of creation.
In a time of climate emergency, that demands more and more from humans, all other animals and our natural systems, in their ability to evolve and adapt in a changing world, Lent is a significant time to recall our frailty and dependency before our Creator. Though we are but dust, God does give us a huge responsibility towards the creation we are reciprocally related to: we too flourish and fall under the consequences of our actions or inactions (Romans 8:19-23).
Have you noticed how our responsibility towards creation is often individualised?
I find myself so often overwhelmed, in despair and feeling alone in the fight to care for creation. But this is not the nature of responsibility that God gives to each of us. It is the Biblical paradox that we embody the limitations and short-comings of the flesh yet we are God’s gift to one another. By His grace, God has given one who knows what it is to be flesh, and as a Creator, loves us even though we are limited.
As we consider the time of Lent, this passage from Isaiah about fasting concludes with the striking challenge, will you continue to ‘hide yourself from your own flesh?’ The story of the Christian hope holds inter-dependency at its core, contrasting any individualist ideals of living and thriving (1 Corinthians 12:26). Thus, our care of the environment surely encompasses a collective action that extends towards the trees, plants, mammals, fish and birds, as well as the people who are being impacted every day by the changes we see in climate and landscape.
In view of this, let us suitably prepare for the Easter hope of reconciliation and good news for all. May we celebrate anew Christ’s commitment in relating to his creation; that the God-man Jesus would enter into the deepest pains and realities of the flesh in order to restore the relationship between Creator and creature. By this restorative work all creation is reconciled to its intended delight, finding peace and mutual flourishing.
Last year I gave up plastic for Lent and I wouldn’t have been able to do this had I not pledged this with the accountability, prayer, advice, passion and encouragement of the group of friends who took up the challenge with me.
Hebrews 10:24 wonderfully reminds us to, ‘consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good works.’ Let us then not be overcome by the burdens of this time in the silence of individualised despair. Let us utilise and encourage the body of the Church, even if you just find one other person to walk with you this Lent and beyond, you will have a bigger impact than trying to tackle the mountain on your own.
This reflection was written by Emily A for the Wild Christian email, ‘Nature and Lent.’ Emily is a recent graduate from Trinity College Bristol and is in ministry with her husband, based in Rushden, Northamptonshire.