Caring as a Lenten Practice

Rev. Dr. DeWayne L. Davis

This Week at Plymouth, February 23, 2024

We need to develop a sense of caring for each other and for ourselves. . . . Developing caring relationships, an ethic of care, is a key social ingredient in resisting the multiple ways we fracture ourselves and cease being and living as brothers and sisters.

—Emilie Townes

Over the last few years, I have reflected on how my parents ministered in a world surrounded by poverty. For a long time, I mistakenly attributed their hope and compassion solely to a rigid adherence to their Pentecostal faith and the promise of life everlasting in heaven. But recently, when recounting to others their acts of service and justice to people living in poverty, I noticed that what I was describing was their ethic of care. Yes, the people in the church of my youth lived in eschatological hope for the Day of the Lord, but something within called them to take care of each other. I do not recall my parents ever articulating what they were doing, but they lived by a system that placed moral value on tending to their neighbors’ spiritual and material needs. They never associated the good life with the accumulation of material things, such as wealth, power, and property. Wholeness was spiritual and physical.

The political scientist Joan Tronto maintains that we are experiencing a caring deficit in every facet of life in the United States, neglecting care for others in political and economic life and fragmenting care responsibilities such that those with the least resources shoulder a disproportionate share of the burden to help others. Author and critic bell hooks wondered if the failure to care for those wrestling with disappointment, disillusionment, and spiritual malaise prompted preoccupation with amassing power and wealth accumulation. It appears that far too many have concluded that if spiritual or moral well-being is unattainable, perhaps material success is a better way to measure well-being. Are we numbing ourselves with a surfeit of possessions and activities while we become more disconnected and distrustful of each other? Perhaps now more than ever, the times call for a new covenant and commitment to caring for each other and tending to our neighbors’ spiritual and material needs.

Tronto provides an expansive definition of caring, describing it as “everything we do to maintain, continue, and repair our ‘world’ so that we can live in it as well as possible.” I like the sound of that. We have chosen as our Lenten theme, “Repair and Renewal: Embracing an Ethic of Care,” which invites us to consider ways to eliminate our nation’s caring deficit and become agents of repair and renewal. I pray that we embrace an ethic of care, a broader, more expansive understanding of ourselves and caregiving in which the spirit and body are not binary constructs for tending to the needs of others. We make caring for the whole person our Lenten practice for the season. May it be so.