We are now in Holy Week, and Lent is ending.
I’ve been fasting. It’s nothing onerous; just giving up sweets and meats. I’m not a huge fan of penance and self-flagellation, but to be honest, I probably eat too much of both categories for both my conscience and my health. But even if a little guilt is in order, I don’t see any profit in wallowing or groveling. Lent is the perfect time to reset my habits. It is a well-defined period of fasting that, if not observed, is at least recognized throughout Christendom. And it is that very definition, the fact that it is so widely recognized, makes the fast easier and more bearable.
I know Mormons don’t generally observe Lent; I was raised Mormon. But I am surprised by how many derisive reactions I receive from my fellow Mormons during my fast.
I’ve already mentioned the practical reasons for fasting through Lent. But the primary reason to fast is spiritual. This extended fast, this period of prolonged mild self-denial builds anticipation for Easter. In my 40 days, I remember the other 40s of the Bible: Moses fasting on Sinai, Elijah walking to Horeb, the great deluge, the 40 years of exile in the wilderness. I remember Christ fasting in the wilderness for 40 days at the beginning of his ministry, and how hungered and weak, he overcame temptation.
I look to the wilderness surrounding me, my mountains and canyons, and I am drawn away from this overly civilized valley (which I love) back to the places where no man can mediate between me and my God. I want to be alone and empty, a vessel to be defined by what God choses to do with me.
I count down the days, tell my children the stories of Christ’s ministry, rehearse the events of Holy Week. Palm Sunday, with its processional entry overcast by our hindsight of Christ’s approaching death. The Christ’s last Passover and our first sacrament. The betrayal for silver and pain of hearing the cock crow, knowing too late how we in our weakness and selfishness are willing to betray Him whom we love most.
I remember, not only with the words I taste and the stories I tell, but with my body, as I do not eat.
I started fasting for Lent in small, tentative ways, back in the days when I could not fast each month for the standard LDS prescribed 24 hour period, during those years of pregnancy and nursing. Now that young mother phase has passed, and I can do both fasts. And on those fast Sundays that fall during Lent, I rejoice in the quiet unity I feel with my Mormon brothers and Christian sisters. The denial of the self, through the putting off of my physical and psychological appetites (e.g. chocolate), done in conjunction with so many others is an attempt at unity. It is to leave aside the small persistent concerns of my body to become part of the body of Christ.
And so I fast. Now, toward the end of the fast, I feel that I have given up very little. I am humbled that I gained so much for what is really nothing more than a gesture. Out of this time of mild denial springs a well of rejoicing. And when Easter comes, I am ready to greet my Lord at the tomb, or the garden, or the wilderness, or wherever He may be found.