It takes more than bread to really live. Luke 4:4 (MSG)
The Desert – The Lent Series – Part 2
I’ve loved feasting too much to be a fan of fasting. We used to do big church-wide “fasts” in the faith community I grew up in, and we were really serious about it. I’d always talk the talk, then sneak in a few sandwiches and blocks of chocolate when no one was looking. (really serious about it, yep.)
The point of fasting is not the “going without” bit or “praying/reading more” bit, but the hungry bit.
It’s to nurture and re-acquaint ourselves with longing, desire, and hunger. We are so busy satiating ourselves in our modern, fast-paced, consumer orientated lives, that we have forgotten the virtue of hunger. What is it like to long for something? To have absence in our lives? We fill our lives with so much doing and getting that we miss the sweet sadness of being without. The fasting – the longing, hunger, desire and absence – allows space for the feast. It’s what Orthodox Theologian Alexander Schecmann called the “bright sadness.”
The forty days of Lent reflect the forty days Jesus spent in the desert, alone and without food and water.
“This text is not to be taken literally to mean that for forty days Jesus took no food, but that he deprived himself of all the normal supports that protected him from feeling, full-force, his vulnerability, dependence, and need to surrender in deeper trust to God the Father. And in doing this, we are told, he found himself hungry and consequently vulnerable to temptations from the devil; but also, by that same token, he was more open to the Father. Lent has for the most part been understood as a time of us to imitate this, to metaphorically spend forty days in the desert like Jesus, unprotected by normal nourishment so as to have to face “Satan” and the “wild animals” and see whether the “angels” will indeed come and look after us when we reach that point where we can no longer look after ourselves.
For us, Satan and wild animals refer particularly to the chaos inside of us that normally we either deny or simply refuse to face: our paranoia, our anger, our jealousies, our distance from others, our fantasies, our grandiosity, our addictions, our unresolved hurts, our sexual complexity, our incapacity to really pray, our faith doubts, and our dark secrets. The normal “food” that we eat (distractions, busyness, entertainment, ordinary life) works to shield us from the deeper chaos that lurks beneath the surface of our lives. Lent invites us to stop eating, so to speak, whatever protects us from having to face the desert that is inside of us. It invites us to feel our smallness, to feel our vulnerability, to feel our fears, and to open ourselves to the chaos of the desert so that we can finally give the angels a chance to feed us.” Ronald Rolheider, OMI. “God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter.“
There’s much more to fasting than just going without (fill-in the blank) so that you have more time to pray.
It’s space to embrace hunger, the smallness of our lives, the desert within; it’s a time to get up close and personal with the edge of life and surrender to trust.