Fasting From Ash

Reflection written by The Rev. Dcn. Leeann Culbreath, GIPL Outreach Coordinator for South & Coastal Georgia.

“For our waste and pollution of your creation,
and our lack of concern for those who come after us,
Accept our repentance, Lord.”
Today, Christians around the world receive a smudge of ashes on their foreheads as a symbol of mortality and a reminder that our lives and hearts are so often marred by sin. Ash Wednesday marks the start of Lent, a penitential season for deep reflection on our relationship with God and on our actions toward others. The above prayer is part of the Episcopal Church’s Litany of Penitence, offered every Ash Wednesday, challenging us to repent from the sins of over-consumption and apathy.
“Repent” in Greek is metanoia, meaning a change of mind or a turning away from sin and turning toward God and a new path. Repentance means action, not just feeling remorseful. In Lent, many repent through acts of fasting—of giving something up. Some also “take on” something, perhaps a new action or spiritual discipline.  Whether you typically observe Lent or not, the season offers a special opportunity to focus on our actions and make needed changes to repair our relationship to God, God’s creation, and our neighbors.
My family will focus this Lent on another kind of ash: coal ash. Coal ash is the toxic byproduct left after burning coal for electricity, and it contains arsenic, mercury, lead, and other heavy metals. Across Georgia and the country, coal ash sits in unlined, uncapped ponds at power plants near waterways, threatening our waterways and aquifer and posing a serious public health crisis. Right now in Georgia, citizens, legislators, and environmental advocates are working to pass new laws to make coal ash storage safer and to move coal ash away from rivers and wetlands.
While power companies are primarily responsible for the waste they create, all of us who benefit from coal-fired energy—and that is ALL of us—bear some responsibility as well. During Lent, my family will practice intentional energy conservation to help keep us mindful throughout the day of our connection to coal ash. We’re putting “Turn Off Lights for Lent” signs above our light switches to help us reduce energy waste.
This is a small action, but I hope it will serve as a powerful and constant reminder that our actions connect us to others locally and around the world. If a coal ash/carbon fast appeals to you as well, consider signing up for Ecumenical Lenten Carbon Fast daily emails from the New England Regional Environmental Ministries. You can also “take on” letter writing and other ways to voice your concerns about coal ash to local and state leaders.
If you receive ashes today, may they remind you of your deep connection this good Earth, and lead you to new actions to care for it this Lent and always.