Saturday, March 13, 2010

Spiritual Lent

The pastor of our tiny church ended his annual give-something-up-for-Lent sermon: “As an example of penitence to the rest of the community, this congregation will worship in an unheated church for the whole of Lent.” As we made our way out into the chill February Sunday, the pastor addressed my elderly neighbor. “Ah, Mrs. James, and what have you decided to give up for Lent?” “Church,” she replied firmly.

Enforced change is rarely successful. If anything it is often met with a move in the opposite direction. Someone tells us we can’t go into that shop – that makes us want to go even more. We sign up for a diet and find out we can’t eat potato chips – we immediately crave potato chips. Someone says “don’t look out the window” and it’s like a magnet – only with the strongest can resist the urge to do just that.

Enforced change outside ourselves does not create change inside ourselves. Lasting, fulfilling change always flows from the inside to the outside. When we decide to transform part of us, then there is the possibility of real change.

We know that in order to make room for something new to come into our lives, we need to release something. That is what the fasting part of Lent is about. Release. The feasting is – what do we want to put in its place. And that is Lent – on a deep, spiritual level of understanding. Fasting and Feasting.

“When we withdraw our attention, interest, and support from the false and the unworthy, this is true fasting. When we give that same attention, interest, and support to the enduring good, we are feasting on the things of the Spirit, and this is true prayer”. (Georgiana Tree West)

Charles Fillmore, co-founder of Unity, gave us some beautiful fasting and feasting statements:

TRUE LENTEN DISCIPLINES

Fast from judging others.
Feast on Christ dwelling within them.

Fast from fear of illness.
Feast on the healing power of God.

Fast from words that pollute.
Feast on speech that purifies.

Fast from discontent.
Feast on patience.

Fast from pessimism.
Feast on optimism.

Fast from negative.
Feast on alternatives.

Fast from bitterness.
Feast on forgiveness.

Fast from self-concern.
Feast on compassion.

Fast from suspicion.
Feast on truth.

Fast from gossip.
Feast on purposeful silence.

Fast from problems that overwhelm.
Feast on prayer that sustains.

Fast from worry.
Feast on faith.

Let’s look at the fasting aspect first. Fasting is about cleansing, emptying, cleaning out, removing old stuff.

I think that is what can happen in our minds, we keep stuff – old thoughts, ideas, fears, concerns, old ‘tapes’. What old attitudes, ideas, beliefs are sitting there, that no longer enhance our lives.

When we are cleaning anything – including our minds, we want to practice softness, tenderness, gentleness. We all carry thoughts and ideas that have been with us for a long time. Be rough with ourselves through the process is not necessary.

Have you even torn through a dirty room with a dustcloth and when you look around, you can see you have stirred up and actually spread the dirt around – not much cleaning really happened. Keep that in mind as we look at fasting – gently and easily.

So what could we fast from? Let’s take: Fast from worry, feast on faith.

What is worry? Worrying is praying for what we don’t want. Worry is giving the things outside ourselves power. Worry is thinking that outer appearances are greater than God.

I am an old man and have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened. Mark Twain

And then comes the ‘feasting’ part. And this is very very important – when we let go of an old idea, we want to replace it with something sustaining and enriching. The second half of that statement: feast on faith.

Faith is one of our 12 Powers. It was the first candle we lit on Christmas eve. It is the power for the first month of the year. I use the analogy of Faith being like a flashlight. We all have it – we just need to be careful where we shine it. We can put our faith in appearances, in outer circumstances, in what we read in the paper, what we hear on the news. We can put our faith in things outside ourselves.

Or we can use our power of faith to see God in expression. To see Spirit at work. To know there is a power greater than ourselves at work, that there is always more than what we see with our eyes.

Charles Fillmore says our faith is like a wandering child – we need to keep it close to us and not let it go too long without reminding it of its highest expression, bringing it back to center.

We probably don’t have to look far to find ways to use our faith wisely. Life usually provides us with many opportunities to strengthen our faith and make sure it is aligned with God. To look beyond what seems is real and see the bigger real.

Fast and Feast!