This article was originally published by Mennonite World Review

Vision of abundance

A man stood on a street corner selling magazines produced by an advocacy organization for the homeless — vendors keep part of their sales and build job skills. When a passerby told him she didn’t have $2 in cash that day, he responded, “I accept smiles, too!” and gave her one, which she returned.


He had transformed the interaction from one of guilt and unmet need into one of mutual gift, reminding all who heard of what we have to give away freely, without limitation.

The Christian practice of giving up something for Lent can be a way of deepening discipleship. Those who practice whole-life stewardship often already give up a great deal, though we can hope to no longer desire some of the luxuries society claims we must have. But sometimes living simply can make a person feel deprived.

This particular Lent comes at the end of the most brutal winter of recent memory for much of North America. (Even from part of the polar vortex with a wind chill in the negative 40s Fahrenheit, the plight of the southern U.S. so unaccustomed to cold appeared more poignant.) With shortages abounding, perhaps our Lenten fast came early.

Further, those of us who live with illness and disability know limitation and loss. We are often denied things that others take for granted.

In the midst of all that, an alternative Lenten practice could be to celebrate and nurture a sense of abundance.

What resources do we have that we can share freely to those who also have assets to share in return? What creativity and energy can we tap into that we might otherwise not notice? By focusing on abundance — all ultimately belonging to God and shared with us — we can participate in a greater vision.

Vincent Harding, a scholar and activist for freedom and justice, returned to Chicago for a visit in March. He was a pastor in the late 1950s and early ’60s of the interracial community at Woodlawn Mennonite Church, which met from 1951 to 1971 on the city’s Southeast Side.

More than 200 people gathered for a dialogue on ideas from his recent book America Will Be! Harding invited people to form small groups around several questions: “What is your dream of America? What could America be that it is not now? What could America be in its education system, health care system, transportation system? With its relationship to the rest of the world?”

He noted that in a democracy the people have the responsibility to build a new country.

“What does that new country look like in your dreams?” he asked.

This does not mean only looking to a positive future but also acknowledging mistakes of the past.

“One of the great signs of maturity is the capacity to recognize where we’ve gone wrong,” he said, and to “go through and figure out what to do with it.”

In small groups and wider discussion afterward, people spoke of dreams for nonviolent communities, fairness in education, health and wholeness, and money spent for the common good rather than war.

Putting the conversation in the context of dreams brought into focus the abundance of resources before us as people who worked with youth empowerment, teaching, health care, peacemaking, storytelling and more.

From our shared dreams we could face injustice with a sense of purpose, to build a new society that honors each person. It was a vision of abundance to foster and sustain new growth in ways that could only begin to be seen.

Celeste Kennel-Shank is a hospital chaplain, editor and community gardener in Chicago.

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