Here we are on the fifth day of Great Lent. The first week is often the most difficult for several reasons. For one thing, we aren’t accustomed to the Orthodox Church’s strict fasting guidelines, as we’ve been “feasting” since Nativity. And then the services of the church this first week are long and the music is slow. That said, those services are also full of hauntingly beautiful music, lots of Scripture readings, and heart-mending hymns. It’s a time to wake up our sleeping souls and say to them:
The meaning of life is not dependent upon the fulfillment of our dreams and aspirations. Nor is it lost within our brokenness and self-absorption.
Those are not my words. They are from the Preface to a wonderful new book that I’m reading during Lent this year—God For Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Lent and Easter (Paraclete Press, 2014). One of the editors, Greg Pennoyer, wrote the Preface. Like me, he is a convert to Orthodox Christianity. I love his take on the purpose of Lent:
Whether it is imposed by circumstances or chosen through spiritual discipline, Lent is about nurturing a posture that holds all things lightly, that ensures that our passions are subject to us and not the other way around.
I love that he mentions two ways that ascetical struggle can come to us—by circumstances or chosen—because sometimes I think that when we already have difficult circumstances, we don’t need to add such strict “rules” to our lives. Illness, pain, and other types of suffering that come upon us in the course of our lives can be a big part of our ascetical struggle if we respond to them with humility and patience. As Pennoyer says:
Lent and Easter reveal the God who is for us in all of life—for our liberation, for our healing, for our wholeness.
And yet I think it is only in my choosing some degree of self-denial that I will ever really understand that He is also for my liberation. Liberation from what? From enslavement to my passions. That enslavement is different for each of us, but for me right now it seems to be about that old battle with gluttony. Struggling with eating disorders only muddies the water as I try to embrace a healthy approach to food, not only during Lent, but every day of my life. So, I’m not going to get hung up on the rules about eating during this season known as the “Great Fast,” but I am asking God to heal my taste buds and help me rein in those passions so that I can taste and see how good He is. Again, from Pennoyer:
Please come back every Friday during Lent for more reflections from God For Us. As always, I’d love to hear from you. Please leave a comment here or on Facebook. Thanks. Oh, and you might also want to check out Karissa Knox Sorrell‘s Lenten series, “Wrestling Wednesdays,” which opened with my guest post on March 5, “The (Violent) Battle for the Soul.”