Friday, February 8, 2008

Lent Thoughts: Fasting

This is not the promised posting on "The Valley of the Shadow of Death"--Part II. That will come. However, I hope to post short thoughts for Lent a bit more frequently, beginning today.

Lent requires that we give some thought to the traditional practice of fasting. On this first Friday of Lent, it occurred to me that one way of looking at fasting is to consider it as a way of becoming more deeply integrated into Christ on the cross. There he fasted not from the pleasures that add spice to life nor from the food that sustains life but from life itself.

It must have been a fast as dark as the skies over Golgotha. Every fiber of his will as human being and as divine Person must have strained toward life. The will to live is our deepest and most tenacious drive as human beings. The will to life is inseparable from the being of the life-giving God. How could Jesus have willed instead to die?

The only thing that could have overriden his will to live was his will that we should live. Stephen R. Covey, in his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, says that only "a burning yes inside [makes it possible] to say 'no' to other things." In the absolute selflessness of his love, Jesus' "burning yes" to our becoming fully alive made it possible for him to say "no" to his own will to live.

The word "burning" recalls that the most powerful and consistent image of God in the scriptures is of One who stands among us as fire. Fasting, it seems to me, is one small way of taking part in Jesus "no" to his own deepest drive for the sake of God's "burning yes" to the life of all that lives.

Thomas Aquinas said that to love is to will the good of the other. Jesus' "burning yes" on the cross is, it seems to me, an icon of that love which John Cassian calls purity of heart: the unwavering eye on the good of the other that is blind to any demands of the self. Fasting is, from this perspective, an iconic act that captures in a nutshell the goal of Lent.
Note: Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Successful People. New York: Free Press, 1989, 2004. p. 149
©2008 Abbey of St. Walburga

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