Lent does drag on, doesn’t it?
As the season comes to the last two weeks people start complaining. Some feel guilty because they never did anything — at least not like the people who won’t stop talking about what they are doing! The Daily Prayer entries start to seem redundant and even boring. As the Covenant List people were chatting about, acedia becomes noticeable.
So why keep going?
I know I am not talking to everyone, since you did not start to begin with. That’s OK. You can keep reading and there are plenty of other things than Lent to help you keep moving in faith. Keep going how you are going.
On the other hand I know I am not talking to some other people because you are having the time of your life! So I don’t mean to imply that everyone is dragging around and feeling miserable. If you are experiencing the exquisite pleasure of honing your relationship with God and experiencing revelations and revolutions, thank God! Keep going how you are going.
But I know some of us need convincing. We are not all experienced at spiritual discipline – or maybe any discipline for that matter. We might think Lent (particularly fasting) is not only hard, it is unnecessary – and maybe you even feel it is insulting to imply, “You are not OK. You need to grow. You should do something.” So about this time of year the church can seem kind of oppressive and like all the “good kids” are doing the right thing together and no one is supposed to be resisting. You might even feel that resisting such groupiness makes you better than all the weak-willed people who just do what they are supposed to do. If any of this resonates, you are experiencing Lent in the way you do, too. Keep going.
I don’t mean you should keep resisting or entertain and elevate all the natural defense mechanisms you have just because the whole thing is getting rather personal. I mean you should note what the demand you feel is arousing and follow that arousal right into the Lord’s presence and see what is happening in you. God does not need a particular discipline to relate to you, but the particular discipline of the Lenten fast is even vicariously useful.
Fasting is a means to pleasure, you know, not just a morbid elevation of suffering, as if you were not supposed to have any pleasure. The purposeful abstention from a particular pleasure, like eating a certain food, allows it to regain its place as a prolepsis, a gift from God in the present that has an even greater reality in eternity. Through fasting, a pleasure can regain its value and meaning as a gift and a promise.
We are inordinately connected to a lot of things that crowd out our relationship with God. The willful act of uncrowding when we fast gives spiritual space for our true selves to flourish. It is healthy to rest from our pleasures, like we rest from everything else. Most of the time the wearniness of our yearning or our resistance to yearning can lead us to become open to God’s presence. There is an old poem by George Herbert (1593-1633) called The Pulley that tries to get at it, if you’d like to give it a read. Our sense of emptiness and our frustration over not being at rest is like the pulley God uses to do his work of salvation.
Fasting from what normally occupies us or addicts us, helps us rebel against the errors of the modern era that have overtaken most of us in one way or another. Addicts are actually unwitting prophets since they find a substance or activity that provides a central, organizing reality in a culture that has the meaning sucked out of it and is hollow. Society gives us arbitrariness, boredom and loneliness but your vidiocy, for example, provides a false, but stimulating antidote. Addiction highlights the damnation; fasting opens us up to salvation.
Fasting prepares us to savor the pleasure we have purposefully deprived ourselves of during Lent. For instance, I usually don’t eat cookies, my favorite food, during Lent. A lack of cookies has a surprising way of opening me up to the pleasures of God’s guidance. So I especially enjoy the first taste of cookie on Easter morning. I could go home and eat an entire batch to get back on the addiction wagon. Or I could learn, again, that I can eat a cookie with meaning, savoring the pleasure of a bite instead of tanking up with a batch, seeing even a cookie as a gift from the one who made it – who baked it in my own oven and Who created it into the planet from the beginning, as a sign of my ultimate end in God.
In this day when everything is degraded with an outright joke or ironic lilt, fasting is radical seriousness about life. Keep going. Even if you are in a bad mood and think drinking that beer you vowed not to drink will make you feel better, that is a great struggle. If you drink the beer, you will see what kind of “better” you feel, if you keep listening. If you don’t drink the beer, you will see what it all means that way, too. God is good.
For those of you who have gotten this far in reading and have never heard of Lent, fasting or Circle of Hope: welcome to our party! We are having a rich life together with Jesus. He is leading us through death into life, and there are many roads to His good end. Right now we are realizing that our sufferings are not for nothing. As a matter of fact, recognizing them in the safety of our Savior’s presence brings them meaning and restores our sense that the future is full of promise. In fasting, for instance, we embrace the sufferings that emerge when we leave open space for God to fill our emptiness. You have gotten this far! I hope you will keep going.