By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion…How can we sing the songs of the LORD while in a foreign land? If I forget you, Jerusalem, may my right hand forget its skill. May my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth if I do not remember you, if I do not consider Jerusalem my highest joy. Psalm 137: 1, 4-6
The Lenten season is one of the great good gifts of the Church….though it might not always feel like it. It is not punishment for all the bad things we have done the rest of the year. It is not an opportunity for us to prove our piety to God, or to one another. It is, more than anything, a return. A return to first things. To our most essential selves. A return home.
The way each of us go about getting there varies. Here is how it will look for me.
We do not fast because there is anything itself unclean about the act of eating and drinking. Food and drink are, on the contrary, God’s gift…We fast…so as to make ourselves aware that it is indeed a gift–so as to purify our eating and drinking, and to make them no longer a concession to greed, but a sacrament and means of communion with the Giver. ~Metropolitan Kallistos Ware
For Orthodox, the fast is prescribed. We will not eat meat, eggs, or dairy again until we celebrate the Resurrection. Wine, oil and fish are permitted only on Weekends. It will make me crotchety at times. It will reveal how accustomed I am to having what I want and indulging my cravings. I do not always like my fasting self. But it is important to bring that detritus to the surface. So it can be dealt with. It is important to learn to discipline my passions. It is much bigger than the food.
I am grateful to spend much of this journey with my brothers and sisters. We need one another. It is impossible to do this alone. We began with Forgiveness vespers, one of the most powerful services of the whole year. It is important to begin this journey clean, unencumbered. This week the Canon of St. Andrew invites confession and looking inward. Each week we will receive sustenance from an extra liturgy on Wednesday. There are lots of prostrations. I can not tell you how powerful it is to wear your faith in your body. Hungry. Face to the floor. And during Holy Week, we will be there every day, sometimes twice, as the final week of Christ on this earth is re-membered in our presence.
Don’t even act surprised. I am always reading. But during this season, I am especially purposeful in choosing literature that challenges, provokes, inspires, and nourishes. Here are some of the voices I have am inviting into my journey:
Great Lent: Journey to Pascha by Father Alexander Schmemann
The Idiot by Fyodor Dostoevsky
Mother Gavrilia: The Ascetic of Love by Nun Gavrilia
The Lenten Triodion by Mother Maria and Bishop Kallistos Ware
The Golden Key by George MacDonald
As the natural world around me springs back to life, it is filled with reminders that what looks like death may only be a time of gathering strength…that if I am willing to surrender my striving and just be still, God will adorn me with beauty for ashes. He will work Resurrection in me.
How about you? What will the Lenten journey look like in your life?
*The idea of Lent as return is not original with me. Father Stephen has been talking to us about it for several weeks. Alexander Schmemann also speaks of it in Great Lent. For this lovely image, I am in their debt.