Lent is a season of darkness simply earlier than the sunshine that comes with the celebration of Eastertide—a time the place we’re reminded of our mortality. It’s a interval of reflection, repentance, and preparation once we search the Lord in prayer and commit extra deeply to Scripture, along with practising almsgiving or partaking in self-control by way of fasting.
Annually the season of Lent briefly overlaps with Black Historical past Month—and but I’ve seen there are only a few assets on the potential methods through which these two traditions may have interaction.
As a biracial little one, I used to be baptized within the Catholic church with my mother’s white facet of the household, however I additionally frolicked with my dad’s facet of the household, who worshiped in quite a lot of Black church buildings. This created a novel expertise for me, the place I had some understanding of the liturgical calendar in addition to an publicity to the Black church and its traditions.
I cherished the liturgy within the Catholic church—the odor of the incense, the studying of Scripture every week—however I additionally cherished the Spirit-filled worship of my Black household on my dad’s facet.
Most of the extra liturgical areas I’d worshiped in lacked the celebratory and charismatic features of my expertise in Black church buildings, which felt like a major deficit. So, I attempted to discover a custom that made area for each issues, which has in the end led me into vocational ministry throughout the Anglican church.
The church buildings my dad’s household attended didn’t observe Lent, however they faithfully engaged within the religious practices related to it, comparable to prayer, studying of Scripture, service, repentance.
Their congregations did, nonetheless, have jubilant Black Historical past Month celebrations—lamenting and educating others on the darkish historical past and enslavement of our folks on this nation, whereas additionally acknowledging the various achievements of Black folks all through historical past.
Conversely, the church buildings attended by the white facet of my household noticed Lent however didn’t have fun Black Historical past Month or incorporate Black church traditions into their practices.
Throughout Lent, we’re referred to as to mirror deeply on our religion, contemplate Scripture, and honor Christian custom. This looks as if an particularly important alternative as we contemplate the overlap between Lent and Black Historical past Month. What if majority church buildings and white Christians engaged in Lenten practices that had been knowledgeable and formed by the historic Black religion custom?
In his current ebook Lent: The Season of Repentance and Renewal, Esau McCaulley discusses how, though he was raised in a non-liturgical Black Baptist church, he has since rediscovered the great thing about liturgy by way of Lent. He additionally argues that “we must always not see the season of Lent as a sequence of guidelines however as a present of the collected knowledge of the church common.”
And all too typically, Black church traditions and their wealth of assets are missed within the “church common,” even throughout Black Historical past Month. Consequently, majority white church buildings incessantly miss the chance to press into the wealthy teachings of Black believers and their embodied way of life out their religion.
What if the intersection of Lent and Black Historical past had been a chance to have fun the various achievements of Black believers—and the position Christianity has performed in each the oppression and the liberation of Black folks?
There are lots of historic examples of Black Christians who built-in religious practices into their public work of furthering the reason for justice. Such figures had been engaged in a trustworthy prayer life, deep Scripture examine, and selfless service, each inside and outdoors the church.
Folks like Frederick Douglass, Richard Allen, Sojourner Reality, Ida B. Wells, and Dr. King rooted their lives within the teachings of Jesus and allowed them to tell each their personal and public lives.
Richard Allen is very important since—out of frustration with the methods Black parishioners had been handled within the Methodist church—he opened the primary African Methodist Episcopal church, one of many few Black denominations that’s traditionally liturgical. Some AME church buildings have fun Lent and even publish their very own Lenten devotionals.
In some ways, Allen’s institution of the AME paved the way in which for Black Individuals to ascertain their very own church buildings of various denominations and affiliations everywhere in the United States. This has additionally created alternatives for Black church buildings to develop their very own worship traditions and liturgical practices.
In his ebook The Black Church: This Is Our Story, This Is Our Tune, Henry Louis Gates Jr. writes that “the Black Church was the cultural cauldron that Black folks created to fight a system designed to crush their spirit. … And the tradition they created was chic, superior, majestic, lofty, superb, and in any respect factors subversive of the bigger tradition of enslavement that sought to destroy their humanity.”
My aunties who had been born within the Jim Crow South are actually of their 70s—they usually have all the time remained trustworthy followers of Jesus, all the time wanting towards the resurrection of the saints. To at the present time, I discover myself in awe of the steadfastness of their religion. Their deep love of Jesus, even throughout darkish occasions, has been formative to my very own religion.
It’s partially due to a deep religion in a God of liberation that Black Christians have remained within the religion even once they’ve been sidelined and oppressed by their fellow siblings in Christ all through historical past. A dedication to religion and justice, a nonviolent ethic, and African American spirituals have all come out of the deep Christian religion of Black believers, even amid nice ache and struggling.
What wouldn’t it seem like if liturgical traditions, particularly predominantly white ones, appeared to the instance of how the Black church has traditionally engaged in Lenten practices like prayer, service, and repentance?
Prayer particularly has a wealthy custom amongst Black Christians—encompassing the practices of confession, reward, adoration, supplication, intercession, and a lot extra.
In her 2019 speak on the custom of prayer amongst African Individuals, Dr. Anita Phillips shares that in some ways our religion and custom of prayer had been born out of struggling. She discusses the truth that as enslaved folks embraced the Christian religion, they weren’t allowed to wish.
An excerpt from Born in Slavery: Slave Narratives from the Federal Writers’ Venture, 1936–1938 tells a narrative that illustrates the hazards confronted by enslaved individuals who had been caught praying. In it, a plantation proprietor overheard an enslaved particular person praying for his grasp to have a change of coronary heart so he might take pleasure in freedom—and the following day, the enslaved man went lacking. Later, on his deathbed, the plantation proprietor confessed to his pastor that he killed the enslaved man for praying.
Regardless of such dangers, the Black church has given a major place to prayer—and in some ways, it’s nonetheless influenced by African traditions with its emotive intercession, jubilant music, and celebration. Written prayer, particularly, has performed a major position in each Black church historical past and liturgical traditions like Lent.
Howard Thurman, an writer, thinker, and theologian, has written various prayers that may function useful guides throughout the Lenten season. One such prayer is “Lord, Lord, Open Unto Me”; with its opening line of “Open unto me, gentle for my darkness” and its repeated supplication of God, this prayer suits nicely with the themes of Lent.
There’s additionally a chance to mirror on Scripture and the methods of Jesus and what Christians are referred to as into so far as caring for the marginalized. All through the Previous and New Testaments, our mandate to “act justly and to like mercy” is evident (Mic. 6:8)—to “be taught to do proper; search justice” and “defend the oppressed” (Isa. 1:17) and to repent once we fail to take action.
As McCaulley writes, “Lent is inescapably about repenting. Repentance is a change in course, a Sprit-empowered turning round. Repentance, then, is step one we make towards God. However to show towards God we should flip away from one thing else. That one thing else is our sins.”
Whereas, in fact, Christians are referred to as to repent year-round, there’s a deal with this observe throughout the Lenten season. Whereas recognizing and turning away from our sins must be taken significantly and brings with it a way of heaviness, there may be additionally area for celebration and a reminder that we’re recommitting ourselves to our religion and to God.
As we repent from our private sins and switch towards God, there may be additionally a chance for almost all white church to repent of its collective sins—together with its historical past of complicity with racism and Christian nationalism. Extra particularly, we must always lament and repent of a previous through which Black folks had been unable to take Communion with their fellow white parishioners, contributing to Sunday morning providers because the “most segregated hour” of the week.
Whereas most white people as we speak usually are not immediately related to those issues within the current, they’re a part of a previous system that has perpetuated them. And as we see all through Scripture, God acknowledges and cares about systemic sin—as evident in verses like Lamentations 5:7, which reads, “Our ancestors sinned and aren’t any extra, and we bear their punishment.”
Partaking within the practices of Lent permits us to come back nose to nose with our particular person and communal sins, the sins of our ancestors, and the sinful programs and buildings that we’re a part of. However we additionally have fun the Good Information that God is with us on this course of and that he forgives and covers our sin in his grace.
Lent is a wonderful season within the liturgical 12 months—it’s a time of religious renewal through which we draw nearer to Jesus and extra dedicated to furthering his kingdom on earth. And within the overlap of Lent and Black Historical past Month, we now have a novel alternative to press right into a deeper understanding of and unity with our Black brothers and sisters in Christ, each previous and current.
Kimberly Deckel is a priest within the Anglican Church in North America. She serves as government pastor at Church of the Cross in Austin, Texas.
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