Friday, 19 February 2016

Leaning Into Lent: Day 9—Fasting as Devotional Performance Art

In A Song of Entreaty, the Preparation canticle based on Psalm 143 for Evening Prayer today, the psalmist writes:
Teach me to do what pleases you, for you are my God; •
let your kindly spirit lead me on a level path.
I need God’s help to know what pleases him and will lead me on a level path. So, it must be possible to displease God and to allow myself to be led on uneven, shaky and unsteady paths.

Lenten disciplines open me to God’s teachings about what I can do to please him. They open me to the leading of his kindly Spirit and smooth the paths before me.

Fasting, especially, is a great smoother on the heavenly way. To deny myself things upon which I depend for sustenance and enjoyment is like an act of devotional performance art with the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ as the audience—a devotional work of art which says it’s You upon whom I depend and want to please. If I am to be going down any path, let it be You who does the valley lifting, the mountain lowering and the levelling.

When I fast, I usually think of giving up things that I enjoy eating and drinking first. But there are other ways of fasting:
Do not let only the mouth fast, but also the eye, and the ear, and the feet, and the hands. (John Chrysostom)
Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke?  Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?  Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly; your vindicator shall go before you, the glory of the Lord shall be your rearguard.  Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58.6-9a)
As usual, Jesus gives a most penetrating and evocative insight for followers:
Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal. (John 6:27 ESV)

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