Lent Arrives — What Fast Might Be Required?
I write this post on Shrove Tuesday, Fat Tuesday, the day known for Madi Gras or Carnival in many parts of the world. It is a time for play, for “letting go,” for silliness… and preparation.
Years ago, when teaching in the Republic of Panama, I discovered that in that culture at least, Carnaval lasted for days – make that weeks – with music and dancing till dawn every night and tricksters roaming the streets by day ready to smear the unsuspecting passerby with makeup or face paint. This frolicking was a counterpoint to what followed, the Lenten season. These forty days of Lent (excluding Sundays) were the days prior to Easter and were to be a season of fasting, mediation and self-denial.
As an adult, I have come to value the remarkable gift of the alternating seasons of the liturgical year, and alternating opportunities to live more fully, more deeply, into the dimensions of human experience. Over the course of every liturgical year there are seasons of celebration and times of preparation, reflection and penitence. This rotation captures the human reality — no fake news here — we humans live with the complications of joy and sorrow, sickness and health, solitude and community. At best, at our most whole and holy center, appropriate belief and value systems will reflect this alternating dynamic.
Shrove Tuesday, for our family at least, usually means pancakes and perhaps a silly mask or costume… not much more. No dancing all night or smearing with face paint. We typically eat pancakes with lots or syrup, fruit and maybe even whipped cream on top. We do this knowing that the next season will include some times of sacrifice, discipline and prayer. Tomorrow, Ash Wednesday, begins a time of meditation and, perhaps, fasting and self-denial.
Some traditions speak of “giving something up for Lent.” Perhaps it is sweets that are “given up,” or not going to the movies, or giving up attending a sports event (well, not basketball in Indiana!) Perhaps some change in diet or giving up some other pleasure is practiced.
In recent years I have appreciated those who suggest that perhaps we should think about what we might ADD to our daily life patterns during Lent. Perhaps we should add some acts of kindness, charity or justice. I like it. Our pastor, Jimmy Moore, suggests this idea of adding something at Lent. Then, jokingly, he says that when growing up, he had already given up all the pleasures and excesses of life, because at the time he was a Southern Baptist and had already given up all such temptations. I laughed, and understand, because growing up in a strict conservative Methodist home, we had already given up dancing, movies, rock and roll music and, of course, smoking, alcohol and playing cards!
As Lent 2018 begins, two realities collide.
There is scripture that speaks of God’s desire for humanity and there is the proposed national budget presented today in Washington, D.C. From scriptures, think especially of Isaiah 58:1-11, where the prophet asks what sort of fast does God require of the faithful? Hear these words written hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth, and referenced by him in his ministry. They still carry a force for shaping the lives of believers today.
Isaiah 58:6 “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
8 Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
and your healing will quickly appear;
Then the righteousness of the Lord will go before you;
and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
9 Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.
[New International Version]
Ironically, tragically, these words of guidance and reminder to the faithful, read during this 2018 Lenten season, COLLIDE HEAD ON with the national budget from the White House presented TODAY! There are deep budget cuts proposed to efforts that provide food, housing and health care for the poorest among our people in the U.S. [Less than a month ago, deep tax cuts were made that benefited the richest among us.] Instead of building up our foundations, instead of seeking to strengthen our COMMONwealth here is a focus on walls, on further depleting our environment and the exclusion of those who differ.
So, what fast is required of us? We shall pray and reflect; however, this is not a season for quietism or passivity. We will need to find alternating patterns of action and prayer during Lent this year. Richard Rohr appropriately calls his ministry a “Center for Action and Contemplation.” These two emphases seem right this Lent. Perhaps this is one of the sacrifices required this Lent — to do both — act and pray. Some time normally given to meditation, may be time that will go to writing a congress person. Maybe the money saved from having no desert should go more directly to offer food to the hungry.
This Lenten season I invite you to add some act of kindness and justice to your normal routine. I invite you to daily prayer and meditation. If this is not a part of your routine — this is your opportunity.
There are many fine resources. You might subscribe to the insightful reflections of Richard Rohr at the Center for Action and Contemplation CAC Daily Meditation; or, look to the Upper Room Upper Room for the daily devotionals there.
Perhaps you would wish to join some in New Harmony, Indiana on March 23 and 24 for a “Finding New Harmony” retreat (check out: www.mycalmcard.com ).
How will you observe this Lenten Season? What might you give up? What might you add?