Elizabeth and Christine both responded to last week’s reference to a new kind of Lenten fast. It’s the kind of fast where we don’t give up innocent pleasures. Instead, we give up the thing that separates us from God and each other.
Christine talked about a friend that gave up complaining. Elizabeth talked about giving up anger. On my first Lenten fast ten years ago I decided to give up fear, and turned my back on the panic attacks that had controlled the preceding year, saddled me with a grab-bag of diagnoses, and driven me into a year’s leave of absence from my job.
I learned from that Lenten fast something I had not known before: that resistance is not futile. Until I began the fast, I had seen fear as an inexorable force. There was simply nothing I could do but give in. Now I know that you can “resist the devil (whatever your own demons are) and he will flee from you.”
In my case, I was helped immeasurably by a book Joanne Sz gave me with the unpromising title, Hope and Help for Your Nerves. It was written by a bossy-boots doctor who nonetheless did give me hope and a path to follow. And when fear came swooshing towards my face, or welled up in my chest, or clamped me in the gut– I had all sorts of images of it — I simply would not cave in.
The story of “The Lent I Gave Up Fear” is ten years old, and I’ve not had such a dramatic experience since. Even so, as I see Ash Wednesday come round again, I’ve begun to consider what I need to give up.
Lent every week
But really, I don’t need to wait until February 17th, when Lent begins this year, to give up the things that separate me from God. The opportunity arises every week. A few years ago, Julie gave me a beautiful book by Marva J. Dawn called Keeping the Sabbath Wholly. For Dawn, the Sabbath rest means ceasing not only working, but also productivity, accomplishment, achievement, acquisition, worrying about our future, preparing for our future, the humdrum, and trying to be God.
In place of these activities we rest, by sleeping, playing, praying, being enfolded by God, and being home. We embrace our faith, our values, our family and friends, our world and our calling in it. And we feast, on beauty, music, friendship, affection . . . and food!
I am not a faithful Sabbath keeper, but I’m a fool not to be. Whenever I try to keep the Sabbath “wholly”, I feel as if time is suspended. On the Sabbath day itself, I enjoy that quality of “endless summer” when time has weight. It feels heavy and substantial and rich – not scarce, or thin or fragmented. And paradoxically, I seem to have more time on the other six days of the week too.
I had a delightful Sabbath a few weeks ago. I decided to cease berating myself – that relentless yammering at myself for being such a dud person. It was so refreshing that I decided to give up berating myself the next day, and the next day after that. And although I still indulge in assorted self-scolding, I’ve cut back a lot, and (bizarrely) been the better for it.
The psalms say, “He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.” God is the “who.” I believe practices such as Lent and the Sabbath are part of the “how.”
Friends, I would like to hear about your own Sabbath experiences – whether that Sabbath is one day, or a season.