The Lenten Spirit
Many Christians are currently engaged in observing a period of Lent.. As a non-denominational church it seems appropriate for us to explore the spirit of Lent in the Christian context. Traditional practices in this spirit generally include prayer, fasting, and alms-giving which are intended to encourage us in spiritual discipline, prayer, and sacrifice to enhance our closeness with God.
It is interesting that Muslims are engaging in prayer and fasting for very similar reasons during these days of Ramadan; though in a much more determined and prescribed way. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, with prayer and charitable-giving being two others.
Fasting has a deep history in spiritual practice. We find it referenced in many places in the Old Testament, and Jesus clearly modeled the practice of fasting and its significance for us in nourishing our Faith and our relationship with God.
After He returned from Jordan, Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. And after fasting forty days and forty nights, He was hungry. And the tempter came and said to Him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But He answered, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” (Matthew 4:1-4) While the forty days that Jesus fasted may in contemporary times sound like to an impossible deprivation, we note Mark’s recording that:He was in the wilderness forty days, being tempted by Satan. And He was with the wild animals, and the angels were ministering to Him. (Mark 1:13)
In these days of consumerism and consumption fasting is a very unfamiliar practice and it has become very much less-common as a Lenten practice. In recognition of the change in attitude and practice among contemporary Christians, but still in keeping with the spiritual renewal that Lenten penitence and discipline offers us, Pope Francis offered some thoughtful words on fasting:
Fast from hurting words and say kind words.
Fast from sadness and be filled with gratitude.
Fast from anger and be filled with patience.
Fast from pessimism and be filled with hope.
Fast from worries and have trust in God.
Fast from complaints and contemplate simplicity.
Fast from pressures and be prayerful.
Fast from bitterness and fill your hearts with joy.
Fast from selfishness and be compassionate to others.
Fast from grudges and be reconciled.
Fast from words and be silent so you can listen.
These comments were not intended to suggest completely replacing traditional fasting as a beneficial Christian spiritual practice but rather to open us to complementary ways for us to exercise spiritual discipline in a more contemporary context of penitence. May we find such ways during this holy season to engage seriously in nourishing our Faith in a spirit of sacrifice, and to better reflect the humanity that Jesus modeled for us as we look ahead to commemorating the final days of His earthly life.
Let us Thine endurance share
With Thee watching unto prayer.