It's that time of year again. On the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following the third Sunday in September, we celebrate the fall ember days, when we mark the changing seasons by setting aside time to give thanks to God for His gift of the natural world, and to remember to use that gift wisely.
And oh my goodness, y'all, I think I finally 'get' ember days. We've been observing them for years, as far as the "marking the changing seasons" and "giving thanks to God for nature" goes. And four times a year, Matt and I go back and forth over why I'm making meatless suppers three nights in one week, and I eventually reach a point of "We're having meatless suppers because that's how you do ember days," logic which doesn't even satisfy the three year old.
"And remember to use that gift wisely." Thundering herd of exclamation points. It makes sense now, having a penitential aspect to celebrating the change of seasons! If we were just thanking God for nature's bounty, logic would dictate a feast, not a fast. But it is in depriving ourselves of some of those good things that the ember days become a time of remembering to be careful stewards of what we've been entrusted with. Abstaining from meat provides us with the opportunity, each time we consider a meal or sit down to eat, to be reminded of what we're supposed to be reflecting on. Is it impossible to be mindful of responsible stewardship when sitting down to a meal with meat? Of course not! But the unusualness, in our house, of a meatless Wednesday and Saturday gives us pause: why are we eating this? Oh, right; ember days.
It's like the parable of the talents: use what you're given wisely and well, or you won't have it anymore. Each "wait, why is there no meat?" moment gives us a chance to remember that if we do not properly care for Creation, we are not going to continue to have all of the good things with which God endowed the earth.
How appropriate that, on a day particularly set aside for thanking God for the bounty of nature and being mindful of how we make use of it, Pope Francis reminded us in his speech at the White House that "a serious and responsible recognition not only of the kind of world we may be leaving to our children, but also to the millions of people living under a system which has overlooked them" is demanded of us. He called Christians to "commit ourselves to the conscious and responsible care of our common home."
Coincidence? Maybe more like providence. I think this is an appropriate week for me to finally get my act together and actually read all of Pope Francis' encyclical Laudato Si, not just a snippet here and there.
Even if you're not doing anything else to mark these ember days (and they're totally optional nowadays), consider taking a few minutes at some point Friday or Saturday to listen to Pope Francis' words or think about what "responsible care of our common home" means for you. I'll hopefully get some reading done and have more thoughts by Friday, and I'd love to hear your reflections as well!