I Hate Fasting: Chapter 17 of Joan Chittister’s “The Liturgical Year”

I hate fasting. I hate not being able to eat what I want when I want it. I especially hate not being able to eat chocolate when it is desperately needed. My decision to follow the liturgical year has led me to fast from sweets for 40 days. I’m disturbed by how difficult this is – not only because it’s a constant excercise of willpower – but also because of sheer thoughtlessness. The other day I finished off a handful of yogurt-covered cranberries that someone offered me without even thinking about it.

So why should we fast during Lent (whether it is from sugar, from social media, or from some other habit or excess in our lives)? What is it about this season that requires us to give up something?

Chittister states that “Lent calls each of us to renew our ongoing commitment to the implications of the Resurrection in our own lives, here and now” (p. 110). And what shows commitment better than being willing and able to give up something for it, even something as minor as a sugar habit? Fasting, says Chittister, “exposes to seekers the distance between self-control and the compulsion to self-satisfaction” thus “Lent enables us to face ourselves, to see the weak places, to touch the wounds in our own soul, and to determine to try once more to live beyond our lowest aspirations” (p. 112).

“To live beyond our lowest aspirations.” I think I’ve just found my new life-motto. And it’s not an easy one, either. I’ve always joked that it’s best to aim low. Set low expectations and you will nearly always exceed them. But an aspiration is, by its very definition, already something beyond us. To live beyond our lowest aspirations first teaches us to reach high – and then to reach higher. Chittister states:

Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the greed that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the anger that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have reason now to forswear the pride that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to foreswear the lust that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the sloth that deters us from making spiritual progress, the gluttony that ties us to our bellies, and the envy that makes it impossible for us to be joyful givers of the gifts we have been given. (p. 113)

I am humbled. I don’t think I have ever aspired to this – not in my wildest dreams. This is definitely above my lowest aspirations, because my aspirations are just that: low. My aspirations tend to be based on acquiring blessing rather than being a blessing to others. My aspirations tend to be directed at fame and glory rather than humility and growth. And it’s important that this change, and soon. Because, as Chittister states in this chapter, until Christ comes again – we’re it. The church, the community of Christ, WE are the presence of Christ on earth. This is why the fast of Lent is so important – why it is important to live beyond our lowest aspirations – because the life of the world depends on it.

So I hope, as I undertake the small aspiration of refusing sugar for 40 days, that this small withholding will begin to stir a larger change. That I will be inspired to live beyond this lowest aspiration of mine.

Have you given up something for Lent this year? How is it going? What are you withholding from yourself, and how is/will that withholding spur you to live beyond your own lowest aspirations?

Adult Afresh: Lenten Asceticism in Chapter 16 of Joan Chittister’s ‘The Liturgical Year’

by Ian Walden

As we’ve already noticed, Christmas easily becomes a child-centric  celebration. Not so Lent! What kid can easily be induced to forgo getting things for six whole weeks, let alone take up a practice like giving their precious treasures away? In her recollections of childhood lent exercises, Chittister states starkly that this “was about spirituality become adult.” Whether we are young or old, Lent is remorseless in posing one central question to us all: “If life is not about permanent and continual self-satisfaction, what is it about?” Indeed.

But as she has already intimated in chapter 15, Lent is also a voice calling us to live newly (no matter what our life has been like until now), to live fully, to live in the hope and light of promised mercy, guaranteed new life. In other words, Lent is supposed to be a gift to us of all the fresh-faced, open-skied, hopeful-futured possibility of youth. Even to us jaded ‘adults’.

So how is this rejuvenation to be achieved? According to Chittister, Lent is “our salvation from the depths of nothingness. It is our guide to the more of life.” The ascetic discipline it proffers is to “concentrate the soul, viselike, on the center of life rather than on its peripherals.” It is “the gift of self-conquest.” It seems that Lenten self-denial is about replacing the triviality in our lives with purpose, filling our inner emptiness with a new fullness, and substituting freedom in place of our slavery and addiction to various sins.

Lent’s renunciation, then, requires courage from us in order that it may work its magic. Courage, to acknowledge that life is too short and too fragile to be wasted the way I’ve been wasting it (hence the mortality-reminder on Ash Wednesday). Courage, to admit that too much of what I fill my life with is just a papering over of my inner emptiness, of a heart forgetful of grace, of calling, of missional purpose. Courage, to admit that I still need salvation from my home-made crutches and addictions and mis-placed priorities.

In return, the very practice of renunciation instils us with many gifts. In it we find faith, the daring to believe anew that I need less than I think of creation’s good things, because I am in fact the Creator’s friend. And hope, hope that by God’s mighty immanent grace, today can still be that better day, the day of Kingdom Come – and so I need not pin my hopes for ‘a better life’ on the next indulgence, the next vacation, the next tv programme or bit of human recognition. Asceticism, in short, is a form of training, training to say ‘no’ to my small-god-self, to depose myself in order to make way for others, for Another. It frees me from my tiny wisdom, my limited will. It frees my gifts to benefit more than just me. It frees and clears my consciousness for the very ‘contemplation’ that Ordinary Time calls me to (see chapter 15).

In Lent, it seems, it turns out that the true children (the hopeful, the liberated) are those who have ‘grown up’ via renunciation. How true does this picture of Lent ring for you? What practices have helped you ‘grow up’ in these ways in Lent seasons past? What kind of helps have enabled you to persist in the face of much temptation?

The Seven Last Words of Christ: Readings for Lent

First Sunday of Lent

“Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.”(Luke 23:34)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You forgave even those who took your hands and feet and drove nails into solid wood. Who, straining, lifted up the cross that held you and dropped it into place. You have forgiven them. When we ask for mercy, we are amazed to find that it has already been extended. You have forgiven us.

May we, in turn, forgive. Even before it is asked of us.

Second Sunday of Lent

“I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”(Luke 23:43)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

In your darkest hour, you turned to reassure the man beside you – a stranger. You extended eternity to him, even as you died. When we suffer, we find your hand extended to us – we find strength in the life you give us.

May we, in turn, have the strength, even in our darkest hour, to turn to the stranger suffering beside us and extend your life to them.

Third Sunday of Lent

“Dear woman, here is your son.”(John 19:26)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You turned, in your suffering, to care for those who cared for you. You turned those you loved toward each other, and asked them to give each other the status of family. You have called us your sisters, your brothers.

May we, in turn, turn to those you love, to your church, and give them the status of family.

Fourth Sunday of Lent

“I am thirsty.”(John 19:28)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You were fully human – thirsty as you hung there, in the hot sun. You felt the urgent need of a parched throat and a dry tongue. You have quenched our thirst with your living water.

May we, in turn, choose to quench the physical thirst of others. May we, in turn, choose to quench the spiritual thirst of others.

Fifth Sunday of Lent

“My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?”(Mark 15:34)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You were abandoned by God, alone in your suffering. You withstood what we could not, and promised to never leave or forsake us.

May we, in turn, be faithful to those around us, walking with friends and strangers through their suffering.

Palm Sunday

“It is finished!”(John 19:30)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You finished the work you came into the world to complete. You completed, and will complete, the world in which you came to work. You have completed and will complete your work in us.

May we, in turn, have the opportunity to join you in this completion. To take up your work, and to pull the yoke with you as our partner.

Good Friday

“Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!”(Luke 23:46)

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

After all. After everything. After the pain, the rejection, the sorrow – you entrusted your spirit to your heavenly father. Although you felt the forsakenness of sin in its fullest, you trusted your father. Now you entrust us to your heavenly Father – sitting at his right hand, and interceding for us.

May we, in turn, trust. May we learn the extent of your faithfulness. May we trust ourselves to you.

Easter Sunday

Jesus we come – to walk the road with you – to follow you to the cross. We prepare ourselves now to follow your footprints in the dust. To understand how you died. To understand how we die. To understand how you lived. To understand how we should live.

You consented to take on human weakness, being born as a baby. You healed the sick, gave hope to the poor, and freed the captives. You suffered sickness, and pain, and oppression. You were arrested. You were beaten. You were nailed to a cross. And you died. But then.

Oh but then.

After a long, dark wait – light conquered darkness.

Ch. 18: Ash Wednesday and the Voices of Lent

by Andrea Tisher

Today we enter into the season of Lent (and so skip ahead to chapter 18). Ash Wednesday stands as a gateway into the season that calls us to follow Jesus, and to follow Jesus with all His other followers. It calls us back to what is important, refocuses our attention on a God that demonstrates His glory though suffering, and refutes the lie that we are alone.

Ash Wednesday is a day for “accepting what we have allowed ourselves to become and beginning to be all the rest of what we are meant to be.” (118)

And how does Ash Wednesday accomplish this? By speaking a very strange set of words over us.

“Remember that you are dust. And to dust you shall return.”

What a bizarre thing to say to someone. But how freeing. You don’t have to have it all together. (You are dust.) But you do have this life to spend well, so why are we spending so much time and energy on _____? (And to dust you shall return.)

The first time that I was privileged to be part of a service where we practiced the Imposition of Ashes (was I an Impositor?) it was absolutely striking and unforgettable to say these words to each of the congregants as they came to the front. It was hard to say. I kept thinking, “I’m really saying, ‘You’re going to die’ … how is that helpful?” But as the experience continued I started to see the gift it was. Each one of these people were following Jesus in their own imperfect ways, constantly aware that they should “do it better” and here I was saying,

“It’s okay. You’re going to die. You’re not perfect. You don’t have numerous lifetimes to perfect this, you just have your one precious life. So if you’re expecting too much of yourself, let’s be a little more realistic. And if you’re not expecting anything, remember that you have a life to spend… and so let’s choose wisely.”

And so Ash Wednesday sends out the call to pay particular attention during Lent. Particular attention to the way we’re spending our lives. Particular attention to the Word of God. Particular attention to the journey of Jesus toward the cross. Particular attention to our souls and to being human. Chittister writes:

Ash Wednesday issues a challenge “to become fully alive, fully human rather than simply, grossly, abysmally, self-centeredly human.” (119)

And then Lent gives us the chance to remember who we are – who we are meant to be – and where we have come from. Lent’s reputation about being sad and sorrowful is only half true. It is also all about newness and a call to fully human living. As we walk into the season, may we embrace this call with our whole hearts.

What is Lent looking like for you this year? Are you preparing yourself or others for baptism? Are you fasting or instensifying a discipline? If you’re looking for ideas, I thought this was a fabulous list.

And as strange as it sounds, I hope someone blesses you today by reminding you that you’re going to die…