Joy AND Fasting!Fr. Barnabas Powell
“Do I have to?” Ah, that wonderful, childish question. “Do I have to?” I remember asking that question as a boy, and hearing the frustrating answer from my mother “No, honey, you don’t have to; you get to!”
Why is it we humans seem to struggle against the disciplined life that can make our lives more peaceful, focused, and happy? We seem to be our own worst enemies! AND, over and over again, we KNOW it! We know what we should do. We know we should watch what we eat. We know we should refrain from harsh words. We know we should exercise. We know we should avoid greed and selfish choices. We know we should tell the truth. We know all these things. And yet…
I think the problem we have is we reduce all this wisdom to “should.” This seems to be the heart of my own reluctance to exercise my will toward life and peace. I want to reduce all this wisdom to “should” instead of “get to.”
What I mean, dear ones, is my foundational motivation for living can’t be too small. If it is, it will never be strong enough to overcome the tug of selfishness that is so powerful in our fallen world. The temptation to self-centered thinking and action is stronger that reducing good choices to mere legislation! That’s why passing laws doesn’t make people behave. It only sets in stone a pattern of rules and punishment that reduce we humans to mere slaves of the law.
And Christ came to free us from that cycle of death, shame, and poverty. He comes to His world to change “should” to “get to.”
In our Scripture Lesson today we get to read from the Prophet Zechariah (it’s in the First Testament). In Zechariah 8:19-23, the prophet is showing us that even when the Law was our tutor to teach us right from wrong, our Lord had always intended to move us from the elementary spirituality of “rule keeping” to the new and more mature path of loving desire. The prophet writes: “Thus says the Lord of hosts: The fast of the fourth month, and the fast of the fifth, and the fast of the seventh, and the fast of the tenth, shall be to the house of Judah seasons of joy and gladness, and cheerful feasts; therefore love truth and peace.” Zechariah 8:19
So fasting, that discipline that is the hallmark of our Lenten season, is to be a season of JOY and GLADNESS, and even a CHEERFUL feast. How can fasting be experienced and seen as a cheerful feast? Isn’t fasting the opposite of feasting? Only if your “get to” has been reduced to “have to.”
You see, the disciplines of the faith can become your source for joy and peace when you see what these disciplines are meant to create in your life. The fasting of Lent is meant to turn you toward your only true Source for life in Christ. The prayers and services of Lent are meant to reorient your mind and heart to begin now to experience the joy of an eternal mindset right now even while you are still in this time-bound world. And the almsgiving discipline is meant to create such joy in your heart by freeing you from the slavery of possessions and the true happiness of loving others more than yourself.
In that way of thinking the disciplines of Great Lent become the absolute “get to” works of theos to create Christlikeness in my life and forever banish the childish “have to” mentality that makes Great Lent a chore rather than the joyous path to true life! See the difference? Wonderful, isn’t it?
Today, we stand at the starting line of the Great Fast. This year, I challenge you to enter fully into the “get to” of these live-giving disciplines. I challenge you to go to more services at your parish than you have in the past. I challenge you to choose a serious and spiritually challenging book to read during this season. I challenge you to cut back on the number of meals you eat and add to the number of prayers you pray. Come to Forgiveness Vespers and actually forgive everyone who has ever wronged you and then repent for every wrong you have done. Begin Clean Monday CLEAN!
You “get to” do this, so do it.