Monday, March 12, 2007

And Now We Pause for a Brief Intermission...

I know many of you are expecting the next episode of our exploration of Matthew, but I thought I'd write about something else this time. Frankly, I could use a break, and there's a few other things I'd like to touch on. So from time to time I'll take a moment to step aside from the Kingdom Gospel, grab a cup of coffee, and consider something wholly other.

Each year when Easter approaches I find myself getting into a number of discussions on the subject of Lent. For those in the Reformed/Protestant branch of the church it seems to be a complete mystery. It is simply not understood, the point behind the exercise being missed completely. I've struggled to explain it a few times, but have always been lacking a great example of what it is designed to accomplish. Then I came across this article while I was surfing the blogosphere.

Click on this link, read the article and then come back.... The Optimystique.

This is one of the best personal examples I've ever read on the subject of Lenten vows. Notice the writer's excitement about this new revelation as a result of giving up his/her music. This is the beauty and purpose of Lent.

Over the years many people have said to to me, "I don't understand what good it is going to do me to give up [insert personal vice here] for 40 days. It seems to be completely meaningless." This is often, but by no means always, because the individual has never developed the habit of meditation. The sacrifice of Lent is not an end in itself; it is a discipline which, when combined with meditation and prayer, helps us to discover things we would never have considered if the sacrifice had not been made.

In the case of Optimystique, getting other people's music out of his/her head has revealed a new music. It is perhaps a music of his/her own that was likely there all the time, just drowned out by the noise. The journey of discovery has begun. And that is exactly what lent is - a journey of discovery: about ourselves, about the world around us, about God.

When we remove something from our lives, be it coffee, music, or writing with commas, we open up the space that it occupied and afford the Holy Spirit the opportunity to show us what lies underneath. This is the purpose of fasting in general, to clear some of the clutter out of the way so that we can see what it is we have been stepping over. It is never about the sacrifice itself, it is about our response to the sacrifice and what God can show us through the way we respond.

How do we enter into this process?

First, decide on the nature of the sacrifice. It doesn't have to be food, as our blogger friend has demonstrated, it can be anything that has some personal connection for us. It might even be something that seems trivial, but it needs to be something that will take a measured amount of effort on our part to maintain.

Second, as we exert this effort to maintain the fast, take notice of what happens when we do. How do we feel, and what are the thoughts that run through our heads? Are they revelatory, or embarrassing? Does our response evoke a further response, or does it seem trivial?

Thirdly, pray about your response, or the lack of one. If you have a spiritual guide or director discuss it with them. They may be able to see patterns in your response that you are unable to recognize. It will likely help to journalize these thoughts, prayers and discussions.

Fourthly, endeavour to continue the fast. The journey is not a journey if we stop traveling. It is likely each revelation will build on the former, or not. You won't know if you quit. But if you do, that's okay too; half a journey is better than none.

Finally, when Easter arrives - reflect. Use the time between Good Friday and Easter Sunday to consider all that has transpired during Lent. Read over your journal and prayerfully consider your responses to the sacrifice you have made. Is there something of value therein that can be carried forward in your walk with God? If there is, then you will have all the more to celebrate on Easter morning!

Some years this process brings about much understanding and growth in me. Some years it seems to accomplish absolutely squat! Others, I will confess, I don't engage the process at all. But whenever I do, whether it yields tangible results or not, I can honestly say I have never regretted the experience.

I'm sure you won't either. So I encourage you to consider a Lenten fast. It's never too late to start, and it really doesn't matter if you don't finish, the Holy Spirit is remarkably adaptable.

Until next time... Shalom


1 comment:

daverichards said...

This was really interesting to read...thanks for sharing've got a nice post here...and well as Easter is approaching i'd also like you to visit my blog on Easter Wishes and Greetings sometime and check out all that i've posted there..i'm sure you'll enjoy your visit!!!