Steven dropped me off at the Dogtooth this morning on his way to work. They open at 6:30 now- I’m grateful. I spent my morning with tea and a book before going to the Ash Wednesday service.
No breakfast today. No lunch or dinner either. Today we fast.
The service lasted for about 45 minutes. I left with an ashen cross on my forehead, to which I am pointing in the picture. From dust I came and to dust I shall return.
Steven came home for his lunch hour, admired my ashes, and enjoyed some V8 with me. This may or may not be cheating, but it certainly does not feel like cheating. I woke up with a sore throat this morning, and my empty stomach seems to be amplifying the pain. Not that I am complaining. The hunger is completely worth the weakness that opens my ears to God’s voice.
However, I must confess: I keep thinking about the bowl of oatmeal and raisins I will be eating for breakfast tomorrow. I love what Lauren Winner says about fasting, “I’m beginning to understand some of the benefits of fasting; I’m beginning to see that I recognize my dependence on God more clearly when I am hungry; I’m beginning to chip away at some of the stupor that comes with being sated. I’ve not achieved that highly evolved state where I look forward to it. I wish there were an easier, less annoying way to reap the fruits of fasting, but I don’t think there is. What fasting is slowly teaching me is the simple lesson that I am not utterly subject to my bodily desires.” We are spiritual beings learning to order our physical bodies, rather than our spirits being ordered by physical needs. There is joy in this. I know firsthand.
It is tempting in this tangible life to be ordered first by that which we can taste, see, smell. I think of the week a few months back, when our bank account had dwindled because of unforeseen circumstances and grocery shopping was out of the question. At this point, I thought of the credit cards we had destroyed. I thought of my decision to quit my job to volunteer for New Pilgrim Press. I second-guessed our obedience. I cried not for hunger, but for the sense of abandonment I felt. Maybe we misheard. Maybe God didn’t tell us to do these things. I sat down to pray one morning, knowing that the last of the food was gone. Lord, I prayed, if we could just have some vegetables.
A few hours later, my landlord knocked on the door. “Greg moved out and left a bunch of stuff,” he said. “I tried to give it to our maid, but she didn’t want it. The freezer is full of vegetables. Do you want them?” My jaw dropped.
It was as though our huge God had bent down into Steven’s and my insignificant situation and said, “I heard you. You heard Me right. I will take care of you. Keep doing what you’re doing.” There are wars being fought, stars being held in place, weather being orchestrated, a world to keep spinning on its axis… and God saw tiny me in my tiny apartment anticipating hunger, and took a moment to answer my prayer to its detail. I could barely get the freezer door closed.
God has provided in a number of ways, but none so tangible as the vegetables. The sight of the overflowing freezer kept us faithful in the coming weeks. Sometimes, when we doubted, we would go to the freezer and look at what was inside for a moment. Then we would close the door and go back to living a spiritual life in a physical world.
Though God’s answer to my prayer was tangible, the tangible became peripheral in my concern. Jesus tells us, “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more important than food, and the body more important than clothes?” He does not tell us, “I may or may not provide food and clothes for you. Just do what I tell you to do anyway.” Instead we learn that He will provide. His provision is not the issue. We are to go beyond what we can touch to what actually matters: the spiritual.
And so we are invited to fast not for accolades or a ticket to Heaven. We are invited to fast that the language of daily living might be translated into the language of the spiritual. This is the language in which we hear our God.
This is the state in which Steven and I begin the Lent season. It is a season of anticipation, and we await the Resurrection quietly with reverence, much as Winter awaits Spring. We listen in physical bodies with spiritual concern, knowing our Redeemer lives!