My repentance list this Lent is long, with both personal and communal confessions: damage to God’s creation; harms to others through racial discrimination; complicity in many forms of violence; failure to change conditions that leave others poor or sick; abuses within and by the church that undermine our witness for Jesus; as well as traditional confessions of greed and weak spiritual habits. Oh for a return to the days when giving up chocolate or not eating red meat seemed an adequate fast!
Reflection on my 2022 inventory of confessions raises questions about what it means to change course, the conversion and repair side of new life in Christ. It brings to mind the advice of Jesse Wente in Unreconciled, “Just stop. Stop doing harm. . . Just. Stop. It.” That alone would be metanoia this Lent.
Is retreat enough?
One common response to increased awareness of our complicity in a society that does both good and evil, mixed in complicated ways, is to retreat and repent. In retreat the focus shifts from social engagement to personal practices of Scriptural reflection, meditation, prayer, and spiritual habits. Times of retreat are important for renewal, but I question whether it is an adequate response to God’s call to be agents of repair and reconciliation in our cultural context. The pace of change is much faster than the Middle Ages, often cited as a historical era when retreat served Christianity well. Today, withdrawal can leave others more vulnerable.
The struggle of liminal time
In 2022 we repent in a context described as liminal time – a time to give up old ways while new paths are not clear, a time of more questions than answers. High levels of uncertainty and anxiety, combined with the fast pace of change, suggest a posture of tentative engagement, trial and error, and nimble response alongside those suffering and struggling for greater justice.
Living with uncertainty and nimbleness are not easy for Reformed folk. I come from straight-row farmers. We favour certainty more than the new possibilities of liminal time. We like habits and resist change. We prefer well-developed plans to listening and learning as we go. Perhaps this year the turn repentance brings will be a change of posture. The way Jesus lived, as much as his Resurrection victory, is the guide we need to live out His vision as we journey from creation to a new creation.
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