Lent: Lengthening of Days

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This Lent, the metaphor of the "lengthening of our days" keeps circling back to me. As spring approaches, I am not only thinking about how the sun stretches further into the evening. I wonder: could we add more days to our lives?

Maybe that sounds odd. The word lent is from the Old English word lencten. Lencten means "spring." Literally, it means the lengthening of days as the sun's light lingers in the sky. Lencten's traditional meanings refer to 40 days of sacrifice as Christians prepare for Easter.

When I was a little girl, Lent meant giving up something. I really got into it. Chocolate and cheeseburgers were always at the top of my list. Once I became an ordained minister, I began to think about what I could add into my life for Lent. I'd volunteer more time and give more offering.

Lent took on new meaning last year, when doctors told my mother she had Stage IV lung cancer. Devastated, I went with my dad to hear a report on her condition. The cancer had metastasized. Mom asked, "How long do I have to live? And what can I do?" The doctor said, "We don't talk about how long, but you live your life. You live it fully; you choose life, Mrs. Lewis."

A year later, Mom has endured chemo, hair loss, sickness and fatigue. She will celebrate her 75th birthday this spring. She still has a tumor in her rib cage for which she receives a monthly treatment that stops it from growing. There is now some inflammation in her lungs, and so she is receiving preventative chemo for that. She is tired and frightened, but still here. She chooses life every day.

Mom and Dad are both retired and their co-pay just increased. Two weeks ago on the phone, my mother said that she was trying to figure out if she could afford her medication, or if she should skip the painkiller so she could afford the chemo.

I wept, and sent a large sacrificial check, so she did not have to make that choice.

I wonder about the senior citizens who are childless or whose children are some of the millions of under- and unemployed workers in this country, who can't afford to pay their own bills -- let alone send their parents needed medication. I wonder about the college students whose parents sacrificed to send them to school and who will graduate with debt, no job, and no health care coverage. I am grateful that the 2010 Health Care law allows more young adults under the age of 26 to be covered on their parents' plans.

This Lent, I am thinking about lengthening the quality and quantity of our days. What would happen, if on the way to Easter, the Church thought about how we could give more days to the most vulnerable among us?

Living into the reality of meeting the basic needs of all people may seem overwhelming. Some may even believe it is unrealistic. But these are Christian values. If we each focus on an issue that is affecting our families and support non-profits already mobilizing around this issue, we can have an impact.

Years have been spent organizing for health care reform in this country. People were elected to pass this new bill so millions more Americans could have health care coverage. The Supreme Court will rule this year about President Obama's health care bill. I am holding their opinions in prayer this Lent.

As our justices review laws, our legislators create them, and our votes shape them, here is the question that I wish was on all of our lips: "Will this decision give more people more life?"

But it is not enough to hope legislators ask this question, we need to act. This April 9 - 15, a coalition of organizations including unions and environmentalists will host spring trainings that teach telling the story of our economy, learning the history of non-violent direct action, and organizing to take action on our own campaigns for justice. As we act out of an urgent, ethical and moral obligation, our liturgy will literally become the work of the people. It is my hope that we organize to lengthen the days of the vulnerable.

My parents are on a fixed income. They own their home. They have six generous children and four grandchildren. And every month they think about how to make their pension and Social Security checks stretch to make ends meet. Dad is the hunter/gatherer; he gets rations and makes the meals. Mom is the medic, dispensing vitamins, medication, and gratitude, "Your dad is such a good man; he does something every day to make my life easier..."

Lent could be about ensuring longer days and easier lives. Jesus gave his life for this: that we would have life and have it more abundantly.

Mom's doctor still says, "Live your life, Mrs. Lewis; choose life." Let us work this Lent to help our most vulnerable -- the ones who Jesus would have called the least of these -- lengthen their days.