Autophagy in Lent

by Michael Ciba


A few weeks ago, I was introduced to the idea of autophagy.  Autophagy is a biological process in which certain elements within a living cell attack and destroy other materials within the cell.   When first observed, it appears as though the cell is eating itself.  In fact, the cell is doing a kind of housecleaning.  Weak, diseased, or dying structures within a cell inhibit the growth and overall well-being of the body.  Deconstructing and even destroying these diseased or ineffective structures enhances the cell’s overall health.  The deconstructed material is recycled and reused so nothing is wasted.  The cell and the organism it is part of become healthier as a result of this deconstruction.
The early days of Lent are an opportunity to identify and destroy those things within ourselves that get in the way of our following Jesus.   No matter where we are on the journey of faith, it is always a good time to examine ourselves, to figure out what within us needs to be eliminated or taken apart and put back together again.  We don’t even have to do the deconstruction ourselves.  We just need to open ourselves so God can do this work within us.
What is true for individuals is also true for the Church.  The Church, as Paul frequently reminds us, is the Body of Christ, a living organism.  Within that organism, there are structures.  Some of them function quite well.  Others are doing OK but could do better.  Some have started to falter while others no longer function effectively.  What within the church needs to be taken apart, deconstructed, or even destroyed, in order for the entire body to thrive?  We can ask this question about a local church, a conference, a denomination, or the church universal.  But we need to ask it.  We need to ask it individually and we need to ask it collectively in the church communities we are part of.  Are there components of church life we need to destroy so the church—the people of God, the body of Christ—might live and thrive?
May God bless your discernment during this Season of Lent.

Autophagy Diagram ​By Juhasz G, Neufeld TP. Original images by Ryan Scott (B) and Dr. Noboru Mizushima (C). [CC BY 2.5 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Michael Ciba

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