Only what is necessary
On observing Lent this year
Anyone who follows me on Twitter will know that I have a love of reading writing about food: hence my adoration of Alicia Kennedy’s work, food blog obsession, and interest in gardens and sustainability. This week, right around Ash Wednesday, I listened to the BBC Gardener’s World Magazine Podcast Growing Greener, and was deeply taken with the first episode’s discussion of food sustainability, and why organic and local isn’t enough to combat climate change. The point, of course, is that just eating organically or just sourcing some food locally doesn’t properly interrogate the wastefulness of the supply chain on the one hand, nor change our mindset around consumption on the other. The question that dropped into my mind was one that’s been haunting me ever since: what in my life is truly necessary, and where can I cut out excess?
Previous to this flurry of thought, I’d been thinking about perhaps giving up sugar and/or trying to get back into daily yoga for Lent. Both of those are good things in my particular case, and the intention to eat and exercise in appropriate moderation would be helpful in some ways. But like so many things, picking up a good but symbolic habit for forty days doesn’t do much in the long term if not held up constantly in prayer. And while both ideas were good in essence, they weren’t really compelling as a starting point for prayer, shaping an intentionality that would continue to shape me beyond Lent 2022 itself.
And that is where this question of what is truly necessary began to bring me to prayer. Because behind any abstaining or enriching things that make up our Lenten practices, it is this question behind them—at least in our faith lives. What is truly necessary? The answer for a Christian, of course, is some version of loving God and neighbor and sharing a common life with a community of believers. All of this excess of things and knowledge can be enriching and even helpful, but at its core, what is necessary is very simple indeed.
I don’t know about you, but I find that at times, determining what is necessary is very difficult, in a (capitalist) world that dictates to me over and over again what I should want. More of, well, everything. Even rest and health are turned into commodities, able to be bought and sold as “self-care” in place of the actual and necessary things that would allow us to have rest and health (or at least freely accessible healthcare). What is necessary is sometimes difficult to discern amongst the bright lights and Instagram advertisements—advertisements for things that are mostly unnecessary and are damaging us and our planet as we’re hurled around in the hurricane of constant consumption.
And so this Lent, my prayer and intention is not actually a particular practice (e.g. forty days of yoga, much as I would like that), but is in fact a question. Is this necessary to my spiritual/physical life/wellbeing? I hope to ask this question before every grocery run, every to-do list session, every calendar event. I will probably not succeed very well, but in each iteration of the question, I will think of myself as a bird of the air or a lily of the field, clothed and fed sufficiently to the day. Because perhaps, ultimately, what is necessary, is that I and we know ourselves to be fully loved and held, in this present moment—from that knowing may all our doing spring forth.
Wishing you many blessings on the beginning of your Lent.
Happening (a place for quick updates and links)
I had the privilege of preaching at The Falls Church Episcopal this week for Lent I. My sermon sort of deals with some of the same themes as I’m thinking about above (though, if this newsletter/essay becomes yet another sermon every week, please someone find me and knock some sense into me??). You can find my sermon on Psalm 91 here.
Currently reading John Cobb on process theology, listening to Diarmaid MacCulloch’s Reformation on audiobook, and poking away at The Lake District Murder by John Bude.
Finally, Sherlock would like to report that he went on his first walk this week, and he kind of likes warm weather and dirt thing. Watch out, birds!