to walk worthily of the Lord, pleasing him in all respects

Friday, February 19, 2010

Lent, Day 3: your light will break forth like the dawn

Palermo Fishing Boat Morning

Zechariah prophecies of his son: "And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High; for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him, to give his people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins, because of the tender mercy of our God, by which the rising sun will come to us from heaven to shine on those living in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the path of peace."

Lent is a time for fasting and as such it's a novelty in our world. So far as I can tell, willingly depriving ourselves is generally rare in the affluent circles I walk in. We think too much of ourselves to deprive ourselves and look to fasting as outmoded and medieval. We are too enlightened and our world too advanced. Why fast when we have all we need?

But, still, for some of us, we attempt fasting because we've heard that it will strengthen our relationship with God – but even here we must be careful to fast properly. The Israelites fasted to gain God's attention ("Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?"). One thing they apparently didn't fast from was themselves, to disastrous ends: "Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high." This is the peril of fasting and seasons of fasting like Lent; it and they can become about us, rather than about God. When this happens, we are back where we started, if not worse.

So what then? The secret of not making it about ourselves is making fasting about others, about God (of course) but also about our fellow human beings. So the prophet Isaiah teaches us: "Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter-- when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I."

Lord, I call to you; Lord, in your tender mercy, set me free from myself by helping me to serve you and to serve others. Help me embrace the irony that in giving up myself for Lent and for always, I will be saved from darkness to bathe in your glorious light.

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