Lent

Lenten Reflections

In the past here at Priestly Goth, I’ve taken Lent to offer up my reflections on this time of fasting, penitence and Self-Reflection.  This Lent my writing is focused on worship liturgy and tradition (continuing reflections begun here and here) , and human sexuality .   However, I thought as we conclude the first full week of Lent that I would direct readers attention to past reflections with brief comment.

Why Fast?  and  Further Reflections on Fasting.  Wrote these two posts Last year because the Oratory of Jesus Christ Reconciler decided to share in the fast (as each was able) fasting using Eastern Orthodox Lenten fast guidelines. We are doing so again this year.  Fasting has been and still remains for me a bit of a puzzle.  It is a spiritual practice I take part in (or maybe better attempt ) to but I don’t do it well, and I don’t Intuit the fast.  Fasting makes most sense to me in the patterns of the Church year of having periods of fasting and periods of feasting and celebration.  These aren’t the only reasons to nor patterns of fasting, but when I’ve tried fasting  outside of these liturgical patterns I become way to focused on the not eating, then any intensified sense of prayer or other spiritual benefits.

A couple of years ago I engaged Peter Rollins on his Atheism for Lent program and explored  the “atheism” Rollins was offering for lent with ST. John of The Cross’ Dark Night of the Soul.  I found certain parallels, but also significant differences.  thinking about that conversation in relationship to some of what I’m currently thinking on: I don’t want to offer and develop some new approach based on some idea or practice from the history of the Christian Church of some Saint of the Church, nor do I want to simply take whole cloth some past practice or idea and attempt to adhere to it as if time hasn’t passed.  What I seek to do is see those who have gone before as companions on the Way and to see what is passed down in the Tradition of the Church as something to live into as a person of the 21st century.  As I see it these two approaches need no retrieval, or bringing things forward, rather it is bringing myself to the Church and seeing what springs up from taking what i know and experience and offering it to what has been given to me through the life giving blood of the Church and the Mind of Christ, and the inspiration of the Spirit.  I receive and offer, not take and mold.  In both approaches something new will emerge.  One forms a new kind of Christianity, in the other one discovers in the treasury the old and new together..

And lastly a Lenten sermon for the firs Sunday of Lent “Seeing the Lie Behind the Truth.

I hope you may find these Lenten thoughts of benefit and an aid to your Lenten journey and practice this year.

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.

Why Fast?

Lent is a time of fasting.  The patterns of fasting for most Christians in the united States today aren’t about complete abstinence from food, at least not in Lent.  Thus, “giving something up for Lent.”

I confess that I’m not good at fasting.  The spiritual disciplines I gravitate towards are meditation, solitude, Lectio Divina (alone and in groups), and retreats.  Some of these practices are suited and come easy for an introvert, for instance solitude, and spiritual retreats.  Fasting is just difficult, especially a complete fast from any food. I don’t feel I fast well.  I often just am aware of what I’m not eating. It’s difficult to get to the spiritual benefit of fasting.

Fasting might be that for most people.  This is probably why we seek to fast by refraining from only certain foods or even apply this to refraining from certain activities in Lent.  One can quibble with me about whether giving things up for Lent should be properly understood as fasting, but I would still argue the practice is rooted in seeing Lent as a time for fasting.

But why fast at all?  What are we doing when we abstain from some or all foods or certain activities for a period of time?  

Part of the reason we fast is that orthodox and catholic Christian spirituality is an embodied spirituality.  We fast because we are embodied and our bodies matter for our spirituality.

But one may wonder at this: How is it that refraining from food something we need as bodies, an affirmation of our being bodies?  This touches upon this sermon on desire and temptation.  We can have un-reflective or possibly unhelpful relationship towards what we need to live.  Jesus responds to the temptation to turn rocks into bread with “People don’t live by bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.” (Matt. 4:4b TNIV)  This isn’t a denial of the need for food, but an affirmation of where our sustenance and life truly comes from, God.  Fasting through limiting or abstaining from food altogether is a way to affirm a trust in God, who is the source of all life.

The spiritual discipline of fasting has analogous end to what someone is seeking to do in a vegetable juice fast.  In a vegetable juice fast you are seeking to reboot your body and it’s desire for certain foods and to clean out one’s system.  The idea is that, especially in our context of highly processed foods and high dependence on animal products, dairy, and meat for our sustenance, our desire for certain foods is out of whack and that especially due to processed foods we need to detox ourselves.  For some this is the first step towards a vegan diet for others a means to re-calibrate and detox.  In both cases it is to reorient ones desires towards a more healthy pattern of eating and retrain your body to desire truly health giving foods.  This happens both physically and spiritually when we orient a fast towards our relationship with God.

This can also be the spiritual result of fasting.  Through fasting we become aware of our desires, possibly how they may be misguided, and we can through this bodily discipline let God reorient our desires, taking our hunger or our cravings for certain foods as an opportunity to examine what we desire and why before God.  

Personally, I also find that my compassion for those who may have little to eat around the world and in our midst can increase in  fasting.  When fasting I find myself being keenly aware of all the restaurants and convenience stores, and snack shops that are all around. Things, I often pass by without notice.  Fasting then can lead to a compassionate engagement with food, abundance, and hunger.  Through fasting we can allow our chosen hunger to orient our awareness of hunger in the world.

I know of some who fast who will take the money they did not spend on a particular meal, or on food they would have otherwise purchased and donate the money to a food pantry in their area or to an organization working on addressing hunger and starvation around the world. 

These are just some beginning thoughts on why we fast.  Thoughts from one who is a novice at fasting.

What are your experiences with fasting? Why do you fast?  How have you met God in fasting?  is fasting a spiritual discipline you are drawn towards?

Seeing the lie behind a truth: Sermon for First Sunday in Lent

Sermon preached for the Oratory of Jesus Christ, Reconciler.  I don’t always post my sermons here but this sermon has a tone and subject matter that fits well within the Cure of Souls thread.  Our approach to Lent at the Oratory is a form of  group spiritual direction around different aspects of Lent and spiritual disciplines.  This Lent we are fasting together.  

Was the serpent correct?  Today we read the account of the Fall and Temptation of Christ. We hear of the first and last temptation of humanity.  During Lent we confront sin and its consequences.

What are we to make of the words of the Serpent and this story of the fall? Is it fair of God to put in front of us this fruit we couldn’t eat, and did death truly result from it?  In one sense, the serpents mocking of the consequence of eating the the fruit was correct, Adam and Eve didn’t drop dead on the spot, but as Paul says it brought condemnation and dominion of death.  We see this immediately, Adam and Eve who were open and free with each other suddenly experience separation and shame and they hide from each other and from God.  No longer are they free and completely open, naked with each other.  They experienced separation; death ultimately is a separation that can’t be bridged.    Don’t we know this separation, from ourselves, from our loved ones, from our friends, and most obviously from our enemies?  We may have moments of connection, and yet there is always already separation; a painful awareness that we could be left alone.  We have the painful awareness that making and keeping the connection with others is tenuous, this is part of the dominion of death. We might say that one act set in motion a world torn apart, where relationships are tenuous, even the best ones still come to an end.  The serpent spoke a half truth.

We humans have this tendency to believe the half-truth, which is really to believe the lie that is contained in the other half of the half-truth.   In both the temptation in the garden and Jesus’ temptation in the desert, we see what we are up against and what we (I think) can recognize in our own souls:  temptation often comes as half-truth that appeals to a good desire, but asks us to trust only the desire, rather than trust the whole truth about the world, others, and God.

The tempter comes and says, “ Look, you won’t drop dead!  You can look and see that this fruit is not poisonous. You can see and smell that it is good to eat.”  All true but covered over in these true words is the lie that God doesn’t really care for you, God is keeping this from you for no good reason.  This is the slipperiness of temptation and the winding path we follow into Sin.

We don’t know what would have happened if we hadn’t grabbed at the knowledge of good and evil.  We arent’ told what was ultimately intended by this one fruit. Did God intended us to have the knowledge of God and evil?  What we are told is that we grabbed it.  And what we do know is that our knowledge of good and evil didn’t give us the power to only do the good and avoid the evil, rather it has given us the propensity for both, and in such away that our doing good never really overcomes the evil. Many faithful have said that at some point this knowledge would have been given to us, but because we took it, because we sought it separated from God and God’s caring love for us, it could only distort our true humanity.  Now that we have it we can’t deliver ourselves from evil and the consequences of that first mistrust of God, that first failure of faith.

The good news is that all our sin, our separation our pain and suffering all the evil  in the world is just the beginning of the story, not the end.  When we sin, when we see oppression and violence in the world, we are simply playing out that scene in the Garden with Eve and Adam and the Serpent, but God tells another story .   God rewrites the story and changes the ending.  This rewrite is that one comes, a human, and meets the serpent again. This human being is so united with God that trust in God isn’t shaken by the half-truths the serpent speaks; the tempter, Devil using the Scriptures the Word of God against God in human flesh.  So, this time humanity is ready, In Jesus of Nazareth, the incarnate Son, sees through the half-truth to the lie, and trusts that God truly fulfills our good desires.  Jesus of Nazareth, hungry and tested doesn’t need to grasp after the good things because God never intends to keep from us any good thing.  In fact all good is from God.  Your desire is from God, even that desire which might be unfulfilled at any particular moment, or even for one’s whole life.

Here we are, on the edge of the desert and the garden, intentionally entering a period of fasting and yes temptation, called into the desert with Jesus.  You will hear the tempter, the serpent; you will encounter your demons.  Be not afraid, know your desires are good, know that God will truly fulfill them.  However, hold your desires lightly.  Accept that not all desire can or should be fulfilled immediately or at all times. We fast to remind ourselves that our desire for food and other things while good should not devour and control us.  Desire is good, but if we accept the lie in the truth of the goodness of desire and believe that a good desire must be satiated now we fall into sin: we become separated from the one who will fulfill the desires of our hearts, the one who is what our hearts ultimately desire.

So, contemplate this Lent these two temptations, one which lead to our fall, the other which lead to our victory.  Let Christ’s faithfulness be your faithfulness.  Remember this Lent that you are Christ, you are the beloved, and in baptism you have the Spirit and have taken on Christ.  Trust in this and see the Tempter flee from you.  Even so, don’t be disheartened by a failure, for even in failure you are still Christ’s.  Repent, get up and accept God’s grace and forgiveness, assured that you are being transformed into this new humanity, which saw through the half-truth to the lie through faith and trust.

God loves you, your desires are good but they don’t need to be fulfilled: before temptation trust this truth. And to paraphrase St Augustine: as we begin this Lent and fast together, Love this one who is the desire of your soul, and do what you will.  Amen