Monday, March 06, 2017

First Monday of Lent 2017

IS this a fast, to keep
      The larder lean?
            And clean
From fat of veals and sheep?

Is it to quit the dish        5
      Of flesh, yet still
            To fill
The platter high with fish?

Is it to fast an hour,
      Or ragg’d to go?        10
            Or show
A downcast look and sour?

No; ’tis a fast to dole
      Thy sheaf of wheat,
            And meat,        15
Unto the hungry soul.

It is to fast from strife,
      From old debate
            And hate;
To circumcise thy life.        20

To show a heart grief-rent;
      To starve thy sin,
            Not bin;
And that’s to keep thy Lent.

"Lent," by Robert Herrick

"Let us fast in such a way that we lavish our lunches upon the poor, so that we may not store up in our purses what we intended to eat, but rather in the stomachs of the poor."--Caesarius of Arles, Sixth century

I post these things to try to remind myself it is Lent; and of some of the importance of Lent.  Lent is really the great season of the church, and long season,  the season of repentance and reflection on sin, the season of confession and atonement.  I'm surprised it wasn't taken up at some point by the Protestants, especially those sects that wanted to be more Calvinist than the Calvinists, who wanted to repent like the Baptisers at every revival.  Then again, Lent is an institutional method, and Protestants have long emphasized personal piety as a way to reject organizational spirituality.

So it goes; and so it is.  I find Lent useful as a method of self-examination, as long as the examination is honest and fruitful, not light and passing or degrading and demeaning.  We are not called to regret our every sin, but neither are we called to treat them as peccadilloes.

I really need to work on my ability to fast; but maybe if I can't physically fast, I can at least fast from those habits of the heart that keep my bowels from being filled with mercy and compassion; and really, until that sentence, it's easy to forget the following wasn't written yesterday:

You will perhaps say that, by this means, I encourage people to be beggars.  But the same thoughtless objection may be made against all kinds of charities, for they may encourage people to depend upon them.  The same may be said against forgiving our enemies, for it may encourage people to do us hurt.  The same may be said even against the goodness of God, that, by pouring blessing on the evil and on the good, on the just and on the unjust, evil and unjust people are encouraged in their wicked ways.  The same may be said against clothing the naked, or giving medicines to the sick, for that may encourage people to neglect themselves and be careless of their health.  But when the love of God dwellers in you, then it has enlarged your heart, and filled you with bowels of mercy and compassion, you will make no more such objections as these.

--William Law, Eighteenth Century

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