As our culture will let us know in the news of Mardi Gras returning to New Orleans, Lent is upon us. This Wednesday we will celebrate Ash Wednesday and begin the journey toward Calvary and the empty tomb of resurrection morning.
Recently I've been reading Frederica Mathews-Green. Frederica is a writer who contributes to Christianity Today, NPR and a number of other publications. She's a phenomenal writer who is a convert from agnosticism to evangelical/Pentecostal Episcopalian to Antiochian Orthodox.
In her book At the Corner of East and Now she writes about fasting. I offer up a rich contribution (pp 63 & 64):
Nobody had a cup of coffee when they got up this morning. Nobody who plans on receiving Communion, that is. Part of preparing for Communion is fasting, abstaining from all food and drink from midnight Saturday. After the Liturgy, we have an ample brunch, provided by a different team of families each week. The amount of fasting in Orthodoxy takes inquirers by surprise: no meat, fish, dairy, wine, or olive oil on Wednesday's or Friday's, nor during Lent or several other seasons during the liturgical cycle. . .
Fasting is essential to Orthodox spirituality; unlike some of the more titillating sins, misuse of food is an equal-opportunity temptation available three times a day to everyone from nine to ninety. Those who overcome this most basic temptation gain spiritual strength to battle all the rest. Of course, almost no one does. St. Gregory of Sinai wrote in the fourteenth century, "What shall we say of the belly, the queen of passions? If you can slay it or half kill it, keep a tight hold. It has mastered me, beloved, and I serve it as a slave and a vassal."
Overeating does more than make you plump and cuddly; it limits your spiritual perception. These words by the nineteenth century Russian Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov build an alarming crescendo: "Wise temperance of the stomach is a door to all the virtues. Restrain the stomach, and you will enter Paradise. But if you please and pamper your stomach, you will hurl yourself over the precipice of bodily impurity, into the fire of wrath and fury, you will coarsen and darken your mind, and in this way you will ruin your powers of attention and self-control, your sobriety and vigilance." If that doesn't make you take a second look at your second helpings, nothing will.
I look forward to Lent, yet even with its approach I sense that I will detest its revelations. It will reveal to whom I am a slave and what idols have taken hold in my life. Yet this is the promise of Lent; while we discover idols and make a confession of them, while we face the reality that our sins affix Jesus to the cross, we also find the resurrected Lord awaiting us at the empty grave, ready to confront us with his Lordship and comfort us with the very presence of life.
Lent is coming! I am not ready, yet maybe Lent will make me ready for Resurrection morning.