February 2010

Opening Space

Most of you know that one of my favorite radio broadcasts is a program called “Speaking of Faith”.  It is a program on National Public Radio, a weekly interview by Krista Tippett with a guest, talking about issues of faith, meaning, and ethics.  I almost always find the interviews challenging and inspiring.

Last fall, during the Muslim observance of Ramadan, the program added a brief daily broadcast of Muslim voices describing their experience of fasting during the thirty days of Ramadan.  I was fascinated, moved, and convicted by these personal vignettes of the meaning of the fast for these speakers.

Their stories spoke to me of some parallels between Ramadan in Islam, and Lent in Christianity.  I don’t want to equate the two or minimize the distinctiveness of each, but I gather they both involve an extended period of reflection and self-examination in the light of their respective faiths.  Both have a history of fasting as a part of their discipline for thirty or forty days.

Listening to these daily broadcasts reminded me of the few experiences I have had with fasting (primarily in the early years of my adult faith).  I do remember feeling a sense of greater openness, of spaciousness of mind and heart, a closer sense of connection to creation, to the needs of others, to the presence of God.  Given my youthfulness, there was undoubtedly also a bit too much pride in what I was doing.  It’s not easy to escape the clutches of one’s ego!

I also became aware of the extent to which I “spiritualize” fasting.  I find myself each Lent affirming that there many different forms of fasting: giving up television or sweets or alcohol, etc.  I realized that generally speaking my fasts (when I have fasted at all) didn’t require much of me, didn’t feel like much of a sacrifice, didn’t create any sense of solidarity with the needs of others, and didn’t create any deeper sense of “hunger” or opening space within me.  They haven’t brought me closer to God.  This is turning into a column of personal confession.  I apologize to you for that, but I write out of a sense that what is true for me may have some relevance for some of you.

The Christian season of Lent begins with Ash Wednesday, February 17th this year.  We’ll gather for worship that night here at the church.  We’ll reflect on Jesus’ experience of fasting and testing in the wilderness.  Traditionally, Christians commit to some intentional disciplines of sacrifice, reflection & prayer, and service during the days leading up to Holy Week and culminating in the celebration of Easter.  Fasting has been a central feature of Lent for centuries.  Will I fast this year?  If so, how will I fast?

As I understand Ramadan (and I don’t know much), Muslims practice a total fast from sunrise to sunset, moderated by any significant health concerns.  It seems that individuals and families may rise earlier than usual and eat breakfast.  During the day they forgo all food and beverage and gradually read through the entire Qur’an.  Then after sunset, they gather together to break the fast with one another in community.  Of course there are many other elements to Ramadan that foster a deepening of faith and service, I am still learning about it.

But I have been moved to commit myself this year to some intentional discipline of fasting and hunger.  I want to make some opening space in my day, in my life, in my heart, in my belly.  I want to make some opening space for the needs of others and for my need for God.  I don’t know how faithful I will be to this intention, but it is my intention.  

What will be your intention?  How might you create some opening space for God in your life this Lent.  How might you be more in touch with the many different hungers so prevalent in our world?  I invite you to express your own thoughts and intentions on our website blog at (www.unitedchurchofspringvalley.org/blog).  May your Lenten journey bring you closer to others, to yourself, and to God.