A Reflection on Mark 1:12-13
1:12 And the Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.
1:13 He was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.
Recently, I ran across a curious list with the title: "Great Truths About Life That Little Children Have Learned." Perhaps you’ve seen it? Regardless, let me share a few of these "great truths" with you.
(1) " No matter how hard you try you cannot baptize a cat."
(2) "When your mom is mad at your dad, don't let her brush your hair."
(3) "Never ask your 3-year-old brother to hold a tomato or an egg."
(4) "You can't trust dogs to watch your food for you."
(5) "Don't sneeze when somebody is cutting your hair."
These seem like very wise and practical truths spoken from the reality of children.
Ash Wednesday ushered in the season of Lent with the invitation that we observe Lent in a holy way. The Book of Common Prayer describes a holy Lent as one in which we practice self-examination and repentance, prayer, fasting, and self-denial, by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word, and from these to learn some truths of our own.
Fasting is one of the primary Lenten disciplines that people undertake. Fasting can be done in a number of ways. We can choose to fast from entire meals, or to eat simply. Some people choose to fast from a particular food, like chocolate or sweets. Recently I saw on television that kids are giving up Facebook for Lent. Facebook, for those of you who may not know of it, is an internet based personal web page that allows people to dialogue back and forth, almost like emailing, but through a different medium, a personal on line page. The kids who had chosen to give this up spoke about how hard it was and how much they hated not being on facebook.
Many people who give up something, whether its facebook or chocolate define their Lenten time as a struggle, as something uncomfortable, even miserable. And, I suppose for some, that is a worthy way to spend Lent. We who have so many comforts in life can afford now and then to suffer a bit and go without.
But I don’t think that suffering is the primary purpose and intent of fasting as a means to observing a Holy Lent. The purpose of observing a Holy Lent is to bring us closer to God and to help us remove all those obstacles that keep us from being close to God.
If eating chocolate or sweets is something that has become an obstacle between you and God, then fasting from it may be the very thing you need to do. If kids are spending too much time on Facebook and the internet and it is impacting their relationship with God, with themselves, or with others, then fasting from that is a good thing. In other words suffering is not the purpose of a Lenten practice, even though we may suffer along the way. The purpose is to remove the things in our lives that have become an obstacle between us and God.
Fasting is a way to do this. Here are some other ways we can consider fasting:
Fast from judging others, pray to know the love of Christ dwelling within them
Fast from emphasizing the ways in which we are different from one another, pray for unity
Fast from words that pollute, harm, and hurt others, pray to know the love of Christ in everyone
Fast from fostering feelings of discontent, pray for gratitude
Fast from anger, pray for patience,
Fast from fear, pray for hope
Fast from pessimism, pray for optimism,
Fast from worry, pray for grace
Fast from negativity, pray for joy
Fast from hostility, pray for compassion
Fast from bitterness, pray for forgiveness
Fast from anxiety, pray for peace
Fast from suspicion, pray for trust
Fast from thoughts that weaken, pray for inspiration
Fast from gossip, pray for silence
Fast from hatred, pray for love.
(Derived from the writings of William Arthur Ward, teacher, author, and Pastor, 1921-1994, thanks to Jan at Yearning for God )
I suspect that if we were to fast and pray in this way we would come to understand a bit about Jesus’ experience in the wilderness, about the wild beastiness of temptation, and the healing grace of angels tending to us.
Jan Richardson, on her blog, “The Painted Prayerbook” says this about Lent: “Ash Wednesday beckons us to cross over the threshold into a season that’s all about working through the chaos to discover what is essential. The ashes that lead us into this season remind us where we have come from. They beckon us to consider what is most basic to us, what is elemental, what survives after all that is extraneous is burned away. With its images of ashes and wilderness, Lent challenges us to reflect on what we have filled our lives with, and to see if there are habits, practices, possessions, and ways of being that have accumulated, encroached, invaded, accreted, layer upon layer, becoming a pattern of chaos that threatens to insulate us and dull us to the presence of God.”
I invite us to observe a holy Lent, to ponder what we have filled our lives with and as a result the ways we have become dull to the presence of God, that we may learn some new truths about our lives and our relationship with God, with self, and with one another.