A Conscious Love and A Conscious Lent

By Dr. Keisha E. McKenzie

The Christian festival of Lent is traditionally a season of fasting, restraint, and withdrawal. This year its first day coincides with the holiday of love.

Forty days long, the festival of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and commemorates the period Jesus spent in the wilderness outside Jerusalem before launching his public teaching ministry.

Some Christians mark this season by not eating meat on Fridays. Others choose to give up other things for the forty-day period: flour, fat, or sweets for a traditional fast; caffeine, social media, or Netflix for a more modern one. While my own tradition didn’t have a custom of Lenten fasting, the wisdom of the season—intentional, disciplined withdrawal—is extra compelling to me this year.

Ash Wednesday 2018 coincides with Valentine’s Day, an often commercial celebration of romance, passion, chocolate, and Cupid. Of course we can celebrate love every day, but it can also be good to be celebrate consciously on a day set aside to remind us that relationships matter.

The social current

Conscious love and a conscious Lent both mean swimming against the social currents of excessive production, excessive consumption, and undervaluing people to excessively value things.

Without regular opportunities to pause and withdraw, like Lent each spring and Sabbaths each week, it could be tempting to keep running, keep working, keep producing, keep consuming—and not to make progress in our lives or in the pursuit of collective justice, but simply to “stay in place.”1

This year, the status quo has included aggressive and retaliatory immigration enforcement, early morning apartment raids, and splintered families across the country. It’s meant lawsuits about whether LGBTQ people should be able to access public services or be treated with the respect in stores and schools that others can take for granted. And just days before the end of last year, the people’s representatives oversaw a massive transfer of wealth to “them that’s got” from “them that’s not”—the largest in the US since slavery.2

The status quo is riddled with lovelessness. But we can choose conscious love and a conscious Lent.

Revolutionary love

At the end of the book of Isaiah, the prophet explains the consciousness that should accompany ritual fasts. Fasting isn’t just about what we volunteer to give up or withdraw from. It’s also about living lives that honor relationships, dismantle oppression, and ensure that all people, not just wealthy citizens, have what they need to live well.

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.” —Isaiah 58:6-7, 9

The prophet Isaiah is talking about justice; what love looks like in public. Auburn Senior Fellow Valarie Kaur and the #LoveArmy challenge us all to reclaim love as a force for justice in a world of selfishness, marginalization, and loveless public policy.

“Revolutionary love is the choice to enter into labor for others who do not look like us, for our opponents who hurt us and for ourselves.” —Valarie Kaur

Disciplined fasting

I may not do a traditional fast during the 40 days of Lent. But in the name of revolutionary love, I will fast from some things and consciously choose others.

I’ll fast from the contagions of nationalism and inhospitality and actively support refugees, migrants, immigrants, visitors, and those visibly different from me.

I’ll fast from Othering those who use their influence to exclude people like me from public spaces and consciously foreground the dignity we share as members of the human family.

And I’ll fast from the cultural impulse to produce and consume without limits and acknowledge instead the economic and social interdependence that ties me and my life to workers not just in my city but also across the world.

Take action with me.

Civil rights strategist Bayard Rustin once said, “The only weapon we have is our bodies, and we need to tuck them in places so wheels don’t turn.” Over the next forty days, let your spiritual disciplines inspire you to gum up the wheels of the status quo and turn this world upside down with faithful public love.

For as the #ReclaimLove campaigners put it, “When we practice love as a public ethic, then love becomes revolutionary.”

1. Jay-Z raps about the treadmill trap in “Legacy” (2017): “You run this hard just to stay in place. Keep up the pace, baby / Keep up the pace.”
2. Billie Holiday’s “God Bless The Child” (1939) is a haunting comment on how money can both support and corrode relationships.

Keisha E. McKenzie is Auburn’s Director of Digital Strategy. 

Join her and Auburn’s digital organizing community on Twitter and Facebook!

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