Friday, March 11

Thoughts about fasting and sacrifice....

Ceiling cat sez 'Do not want!'
Lent is, by tradition, the 40 day time of preparation for Easter with the time period linked to Christ going into the wilderness to prepare for his ministry, fasting for 40 days and rebuking the devil three times.

Since most of us don't have 40 days a year in vacation time, one of the most visible and traditional aspects of Lent is the forgoing of something of personal value (normally something which you enjoy but may not be 'good' for you).

Now, I recognize and openly affirm the thought of setting time aside to specifically have a re-focusing of priorities with an eye towards the Divine.  They're called 'sabbaticals'.  Further, I recognize the value of using the occasion as a way of breaking old habits and establishing new ones - if that is what you wish to do.  I am not discounting these ideas in the least.

But, all too often, that's not what Lent is about.

All too often, the purpose behind this sacrifice has little to do with the cleansing power of a preparation ritual.  Instead, individuals pantomime the ritual as a public, temporary sacrifice performed (perfectly or not) for the benefit of others.  Cue the OT reading of the day, Isaiah 58:5-7:
‘We have fasted before you!’ they say.‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it!’

I will tell you why!  It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord?

No, this is the kind of fasting I want:
Free those who are wrongly imprisoned;
lighten the burden of those who work for you.
Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people.
Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless.
Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help.
Right, then.  This brings to mind Hosea 6:6 (which Christ quotes in Mathew and Mark and others echo elsewhere):
I want you to show love, not offer sacrifices. I want you to know Me more than I want burnt offerings.
As I've mentioned before, I have serious questions regarding the validity and probative value of ascetism in general.  The idea of performing some temporary, mild form of self-denial/mortification because people think it is culturally appropriate and a defining characteristic being a 'good' christian?  That seems pretty blinkin foolish. 

All of this, all of religion/sprirtuality, it's all about your relationship with the Divine.  It isn't about what is socially approved or expected of you.  Take time and talk to Him.  Cut out the distractions and focus your thoughts towards what She desires.  Prepare the ground for God to plant the seed within you.  Let Her do the rest.

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