Lenten Invitation for Week IV – Fasting and Self-denial

Dear People of God . . . I invite you . . . in the name of the Church,
to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.

(BCP p.264)

Week IV
Fasting and self denial

Four years ago my husband and I bought a lovely house in Riverside. The house was built almost 12 years ago, and when we bought it we changed the upstairs floors and made some structural modifications. There are still many other adjustments that I’d like to make. Together with a kitchen remodel that would make my heart sing, we have talked often about putting a fresh coat of paint on the place, substituting what I call “the  institutional beige” with a jazzy new color. I don’t know much about these things, but I am told that when one decides to repaint a house there are two different ways of doing it, the simple way and “the process”.

The simple way is . . . simple. One decides on the colors, goes to the store and gets the paint, and slaps a coat on. Or, in my case, has a skilled laborer do that. The problem is that the simple way doesn’t last too long – in a year or two the paint  usually starts peeling, and one has to do it all over again.

“The process” entails taking the time to prepare the wood to receive the new paint. This means scraping off all of the old paint, fixing any damage, perhaps applying  an undercoat, then finally putting on a coat or two of fresh paint. A process that will ensure long-lasting results.

So it is with the spiritual life. In Lent, or at any other time of the year for that matter, we can decide to start reading the Bible more often, or be kinder to our neighbor, or even take the leap and go to confession once. It works for a time, but usually it doesn’t last long and we soon fall back into our usual practices (or lack thereof). Or we can do the preliminary work of preparing the wood of our souls by getting rid of those things that tend to accumulate — the baggage that keeps us from getting out of  ourselves and making a lasting change in our spiritual life.

We live in a culture of overindulgence that tells us that it is our God-given right to look after our own needs and comfort first. We are not bad people, but many of us are raised to “look out for number one” at all times, and the rest of us are encouraged to do so by daily exposure to cultural exhortations. Fasting and self-denial are the disciplines that make us put ourselves and our needs last in a real and powerful way. Fasting teaches us the difference between wanting and needing, and can help us notice, and free us from, addictive behavior. We think of fasting as primarily abstaining from food. However, fasting may include abstaining from other activities such as smoking, watching TV, and even sleeping. The purpose of fasting is to subject the   physical self to the spiritual, and to give priority to spiritual goals; to disentangle oneself for a time from one’s environment, from material things, from daily responsibilities and cares; and to devote one’s whole spiritual attention to God and prayer.

We remove food from our diet (literally or metaphorically), to remind us that there is something more important than food. We strip away those things that come in the place of God in our lives, that have become more important to us than God and God’s will. Through fasting and self-denial we prepare the wood of our soul to receive the grace of Easter, to fully embrace a transformed life in which loving God and loving our fellow human beings are our priorities.