Joel 2:1-2, 12-17 (NRSV)
Chapter 2Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble, for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near Verse 2a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness! Like blackness spread upon the mountains a great and powerful army comes; their like has never been from of old, nor will be again after them in ages to come.
Verse 12Yet even now, says the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; Verse 13rend your hearts and not your clothing. Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and relents from punishing. Verse 14Who knows whether he will not turn and relent, and leave a blessing behind him, a grain offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God? Verse 15Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; Verse 16gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the aged; gather the children, even infants at the breast. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her canopy. Verse 17Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep. Let them say, "Spare your people, O Lord, and do not make your heritage a mockery, a byword among the nations. Why should it be said among the peoples, 'Where is their God?'"
As we approach Lent, many of us are thinking about what practices to take up this year. How about the practice of paying attention—even to the hard stuff? The prophet Joel names what he sees: "the vine withers, the fig tree droops ..." (1:12). After noticing, Joel calls the people to a time of grief, with the traditional symbols of sackcloth and ashes, and with weeping, mourning, and rending of hearts.
Our culture does everything it can to avoid pain, with busy schedules and on-demand entertainment. What if you took this time of Lent to slow down and notice what's going on in your own heart? Among your neighbors? With the earth? Don't worry for now about how to fix what is wrong. At first, it's just enough to notice, and to let our hearts be broken by what's broken in the world. How might you grieve along with God? Can you trust God enough to be sad for a time?
God, show me what I need to see in the world around me. Open my eyes and give me the courage to keep them open to my neighbors, even when they're full of tears. We cry out to you together, Lord, wherever joy withers away among your people. Amen.