Well. Here we are, again! At the start of another Lenten season.
It’s Ash Wednesday, and for the past few days, I’ve been wondering what I would do during this season.
Traditionally, Christians are asked to fast during the 40 days (not counting Sundays) between Ash Wednesday and Easter Sunday. It is one of the ways we do penitence as we reflect on our past year of discipleship and seek to restore ourselves fully to the Body of Christ (the church) and to God.
Often, the call to fast has been reduced to spiritually-incentivized diet practices. We give up sweets or chocolate or fast food–hoping to kill two birds with one stone. Maybe we’ll lose a bit of weight while we’re losing our burdens. Maybe our cholesterol will come down a few points while we’re drawing closer to God.
As a result, there has been some pushback over the years as people try to seek newer and better ways to fully engage in the spiritual disciplines of Lent.
One such way, which has been a favorite of mine, has been to add a discipline rather than getting rid of a habit. So, rather than give up chocolates, we might choose to spend an extra hour in Bible Study. By adding time to do something spiritual, we are by default ridding our lives of something that would normally consume our time with non-spiritual practices. An extra hour of reading scripture means one hour less to watch television…
Last year I decided to dedicate myself to spiritual writing everyday. I used my blog as the outlet and at least once a day for those blessed forty days, I reflected spiritually on any number of issues that were weighing on my heart.
At the end of the season I had managed to really rock the boat for some people and over the course of the year I have come to more fully understand what Christ means when he tells us to “take up a cross” and follow him.
When we step out boldly to follow Christ, not everyone will be happy with the direction we are going. Christ himself was not immune to this, so we can’t expect to escape it if we are truly following him.
It had been a rocky year in many ways since last Lent, but it has also been one that has been more spiritually rewarding than any year of my life. I have found unlikely spiritual partners on this rocky road. I have made new friends. I have shed tears over lost friends, but I have felt the comfort of Christ holding me tight when the darkness creeps in and tries to overwhelm me. And I have felt empowered with a renewed sense of God’s justice and love.
So this year I wondered what I should do.
I have used the practice of adding something to my life for the past several years and have always found it rewarding. But the West Virginia Conference is getting to know a new Bishop this year (Sandra Steiner-Ball), and in the very first sermon I heard her preach, she was emphasizing the practice of fasting. A practice that we, as Americans, have largely ignored.
Fasting requires sacrifice. It is a personal sacrifice to go without–in Jesus’ time, this period without food was a bigger sacrifice than it is to us. Generally, we in our society (I’m referring to the middle class and up, here) are overfed. We have excess food always waiting in the wings. So when we go without a meal, we know there’s plenty in the cupboard to make up for it. In ancient times, this wasn’t always the case.
Just giving up a meal here or there isn’t going to be much of a sacrifice, I realized as I contemplated adopting fast days during Lent–and then it hit me, I needed to give up something that would force me to change my lifestyle. I needed to something that would force to have to stop at every meal and think–something that would remind me that this wasn’t just a gimmick or a diet trick, but something I am doing to make more room in my life for Christ to live.
And that’s when I decided to go without meat for the next forty days (not counting Sundays!–yay for feast days!). I eat meat on regular basis without even thinking about it. Bacon for breakfast. A turkey sandwich for lunch. A burger on the go. Toss a chicken breast on the Foreman grill for dinner. A ham and cheese Hot Pocket from 7-11 when I’m in a hurry. Taco Tuesdays at my favorite Mexican restaurant, Mi Pueblo.
Going without meat means I will have to slow down. I will have to think about it, now. I will have to recall with each meal that this is Lent, that I’m making room in my life for Christ, and in order to do that, I should start cleaning out all the junk that has accumulated over the past year.
And when I slow down to think and to recall that this is Lent I can’t help but notice that the path Jesus is on–the path I am walking with him–is heading to Jerusalem.
So, it began this morning. As my fellow clergy and I met for our weekly breakfast meeting, I didn’t order my extra-crispy bacon. I do love bacon. But I’m on the road to Jerusalem, now… and I don’t have room for it.