Should I Fast, or Should I Rejoice?
Michael Botts of Hannover, Germany
He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. -Mark 8:34-35
A good dictionary will tell you that Lent is a time of fasting and penitence, beginning on Ash Wednesday and lasting 40 weekdays to Easter. I live in Germany, and the German word for Lent is “Fastenzeit,” which literally means a time of fasting. A good dictionary will also tell you that the word Lent comes from the Old English lencten, which means springtime, or the time when days lengthen, a time of joy and hope.
It wasn’t until I moved to Germany in the 70’s that I learned what Fastenzeit was. So, for the past almost 50 years, fasting and penitence has been a part of my experience at this time of the year. Here, Lent tends to be a time where rejoicing is kept to a minimum, like we are trying to save it all up until Easter morning. This is much different from the Advent season, where candles and lights and the hurry-scurry leading up to Christmas morning are joyful and full of hope. Lent is quiet and a bit more sober time.
But I can’t help that when springtime starts popping out, lilies of the valley show their little white heads, tulips begin to spread their colorful wings, the birds chirp earlier and earlier each morning, and the sun leaves winter behind and warms my face, it is hard for me to keep my head bowed in fasting and penance, even if it is Lent.
Part of me wants to be reminded of how fasting helps me recognize how many people on this planet don’t have many of the good things I do, such as peace, enough to eat, and a roof over my head. The other part of me wants to be a flower and turn my face to the sun. Is it Fastenzeit, or is it the time when days lengthen? Should I fast, or should I rejoice?
Maybe we can do both. Maybe it is wrong to think we can only do one thing at a time. Ecclesiastes 3 says there is a season for everything, and a time for every matter under heaven; but we can sometimes do two things at the same time. While it may be hard to break down and build up simultaneously, we can fast and be penitent; and we can yet have an inward joy, a joy that reminds us that spring brings new life, both in God’s nature, and in God’s son.
Lent doesn’t keep us from smiling at someone. Lent doesn’t keep us from singing songs of joy. Lent doesn’t forbid us to dance with our grandchildren (or grandparents) or to visit with friends. So, while Lent does remind us to be humble and meek, we can also celebrate life at the same time. After we turn our countenance downward in contemplation and prayer, we can raise our faces to the heavens in thanksgiving and prayer.
Both are possible.
Are we moving toward Jesus, the peaceful One?
Gospel Contemplation (Mark 1:9-11)
Each week during Lent, you are invited to pray with a different gospel story from the life of Christ. Use your senses and imagination to enter the text. Allow it to come to life in you, observing details, noticing interactions, even engaging in dialogue. Notice where you find yourself in the story and how you feel about what is happening. Notice what it evokes in you or invites of you. Take time to journal or enter silent prayer to reflect on your experience and to sense where the Spirit may be leading you through this scriptural encounter.
Today’s Prayer for Peace
Engage in a daily practice of praying for peace in our world. Click here to read today’s prayer and be part of this practice of peace.