Thursday, February 18, 2010

Litany of Penitence

For our waste and pollution of your creation, and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.
(From the Ash Wednesday Litany of Penitence, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 268)

Episcopalians began Lent yesterday with our liturgy for Ash Wednesday. This liturgy calls us to a holy Lent; we begin that holy Lent by receiving ashes that remind us that God created us out of the dust of the Earth, that we are mortals, and that it is through Christ that we have the gift of everlasting life. The reminder that we are of the Earth -- that we are human, created from humus – brings us to humility, opening our hearts for the Litany of Penitence, an extended form of confession that names particular areas of our lives in which we have sinned by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

This group confession, acknowledging our sins personally and corporately, is very moving. As we prayed through this liturgy at St. Stephen’s yesterday evening, I was especially struck by our acknowledgment of our waste and pollution of creation. This part of the litany includes an acknowledgement of our lack of concern for future generations; we often say we care about those who will come after us, but if we do little to care for our planet, our words are hollow and meaningless.

Besides this section of the litany itself, though, I was also struck by the interconnection among all of the sections of the litany. Jesus taught that all the commandments can be summarized by the commandments to love God and love our neighbors, and all of the particular parts of the litany of penitence are connected to our confession of our failure to love God with our whole heart, and mind, and strength, and our neighbors as ourselves.

Our disregard for creation is a disregard for God’s work, God’s holy creation, and a disregard for other people. It’s directly connected to other sins that we confess in the litany: our “self-indulgent appetites and ways” and the accompanying “exploitation of other people”; our “intemperate love of worldly goods and comforts”, our “blindness to human need and suffering”.

In preparation for the Sustainable Faith forum  planned for February 27 at the College of Saint Mary in Omaha, I’ve been thinking about “greening” congregations. This is a catchall phrase for any sort of efforts at being better stewards of the environment. It can range through several levels of commitment. A downward nudge of the thermostat or a decision to get the mugs out of the kitchen cupboard and quit using Styrofoam cups at coffee hour is a beginning. There are several levels of commitment to looking at and addressing energy usage, paper usage, cleaning supplies, lawn care and water usage, and all the other things we are learning to consider in our homes, schools, and businesses in an effort to take better care of the Earth. At the deepest level, we realize that being truly “green”, being deeply committed to caring for creation, is connected to all the other areas of our lives that are addressed in the litany of penitence.

What will be the fruits of our penitent and renewed spirits at the end of this Lenten season? The depth of our intention to be more constant in our love of God and of our neighbors will be reflected by the depth of our commitment to care for God’s creation, and by our efforts to leave a sustainable environment for those who come after us.

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