Ascetecism

On Living in a Futile and Crooked Generation

This reflection is a riff on  the Sermon I preached at Reconciler on May 4th, the Third Sunday of  Easter. The Gospel text is the Road to Emmaus, the other Scripture texts are a portion of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost and the beginning of the First Letter of Peter

We can lose sight of the meaning of Pascha, of the Resurrection and this season of Easter.  Conservative or Liberal we may be tempted to see this as about morals, or justice, or ethics.  Or maybe we want the Resurrection and the incarnation to be a principle we can apply.  All of this doesn’t take seriously enough the human predicament.  Doesn’t take seriously our own, my own, predicament.

Our predicament (my predicament) is futile, it leads towards death. It is a dead end.

What was Peter preaching on that first Pentecost?  Was he calling people to repent from being part of the mob that handed Jesus of Nazareth over to be crucified. I don’t think so. Jesus on the way to Emmaus tells Cleopas and his companion that  the Messiah had to suffer, had to die, had to enter the tomb.  It doesn’t help to repent from our predicament, that we are stuck.  That we live in a world dominated by death, violence, injustice and oppression.  No, the change of mind Peter called for and which Peter still calls us to, is to decide with what will we identify, the one who was crucified, who we crucified, or the crooked generation.  Are we going to identify the one who entered our tombs our dead end world, or are we going to identify with an age and a generation that can only offer us a life that ends in our death, the dead end.

If we have difficulty understanding the faith of the Apostles and the nature of the Joy of this season of  Easter it is because we think God came to transform a dead end age into the Kingdom of God.  This is also what everyone at the time of jesus thought the Messiah was going to do, no one thought the Messiah was going to become accursed in Death, die on a Cross.  The Messiah wasn’t supposed to do that, Cleopas says so.

Jesus has to set us on a different path.

Jesus, as we know from the Gospel of the Second Sunday of Easter after the Resurrection still has the wounds.  Christ really died, and by death beat down death an on those in the tombs bestowing life.

If we are to understand what has been achieved for us and live it out in our daily life,  ff the joy of the Resurrection is to penetrate, we must admit that we are still in the tombs.  It is to us and all humanity that Christ has come.  The tombs, Christ undergoing death isn’t simply some past event, it is what it means to be rescued from the futility and meandering path of our generation, of this age.

This should lead us to repentance and conversion (one that is continual throughout our lives, not a one time event) as we encounter again and again how we tend to simply wander to our deaths, without purpose.  Continually repent from how we live according to this generation and age that is passing away and convert to the age of life and Joy that has come, and is to come.

The futility and crookedness of this age has little  to do with its ethics or morality, nor its principles, but simply that it is given over to death.  We can live as Martin Heidegger described in his philosophy as being towards death, or we can become identified in baptism and Eucharist with the one who is Life itself.  This doesn’t change the nature of this generation and age that is being towards death, but it changes us so that in these tombs we and those around us may have life.  This is the path of discipleship, this is the path of the cross, this is the purpose of the ascetic and mystical path, that we may be Christ, who is life in the midst of this futile age that is passing away, that is being towards death.

There’s another possible misunderstanding here, to identify this age or generation with the physical universe and the age to come and of life with the non-material.   Or to see it as a past/present verse future dichotomy.  What is proclaimed though is to ages and generations existing as alternate “dimensions”.  Or another way of putting it two ways of being, one way which is being towards death the other which is being in life.  Both are physical and spiritual, material and immaterial.  This is why it is key to affirm the bodily Resurrection of jesus and that Thomas could have put his finger in Jesus’ wounds.

I recommend also reading the sermon, if you haven’t already done so, to get the fullness of this thought.

Further reflections on fasting and Lent

As I mentioned in this previous post, I’m a novice when it comes to fasting.  Other spiritual practices I’m much more adept at and find much more congenial.  Since this Lenten fast has been one I’m practicing with the church communities I lead The Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconciler and the Community of the Holy Trinity  fasting has come up in conversation this Lent.

One common thought I’ve run across in these various conversations is that  the point of fasting is endurance.  Fasting is a contest of ones will, and certainly it is that in part.  One could read certain passages of scripture and the desert fathers that do compare asceticism to a type of athleticism, I’d still argue that the point isn’t the endurance.  More to the point endurance is only part of what ascetic practices are about.

Specifically fasting is about awareness that allows us to strengthen or reorient our relationships.  This isn’t obvious.  I’ve discovered that in fasting I become aware of all sorts of things, some of them trivial, some of them significant.  Having good relationships, with our loved ones, with God, with our bodies and what we eat takes awareness.  In our daily life, our ordinary day in and day out habits can deaden us to certain aspects of our lives and relationships.

Now to gain an awareness of the connections and our good and sinful relationships to things and other, one has to endure.  But if one’s focus is upon enduring the hunger, or the abstinence from certain foods, one misses the opportunity to examine what other hungers and desires are also stirred up in one’s self.  Fasting allows us as I said in that other post at the beginning of Lent, to examine our desires.  This is why fasting should be accompanied with prayer and meditation.

But there is even a more.  Since Lent is a penitential season we can see this asceticism as merely the rooting out of sin or evil.  But again if this is our focus we will be frustrated, and only partly effective. What fasting allows is for us to be aware of what good we desire.  The problem isn’t with desire or hunger but that we sometimes desire or hunger for what is ultimately undesirable.

Here, the current secular practice of a vegetable juice fast brings home this spiritual reality.  Part of the point of the juice fast is not only to detoxify (root out sin by analogy) but also to reset what one desires in food, so that one’s hunger actually will satisfy what your body needs.(by analogy fasting can teach us to desire the Good, and find that we truly desire God.)

I’ve said the above is an analogy.  Yet, I’d suggest that spiritual and bodily processes aren’t so separate.  What happens in our body when we fast is also happening to us spiritually, in our souls.  We fast and take up ascetic bodily disciplines not because our souls and bodies are who we are.  At times we need recalibration.  Our hungers and desires are a mismatch of good, mediocre, and evil.  Lent becomes a time to realign ourselves and our relationships to food, to things and to each other.  A basic and primordial way to do this is in our relationship to food, and so we fast.  With prayer and meditation such fasting during Lent can truly lead us to a joyful seasons of Easter where we can find our true desires restored, and find that we simply don’t have the appetite for the mediocre and evil.