"And when you fast, don't make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth, that is the only reward they will ever get.: Matthew 6:16
So we're two weeks into Lent now. 14 of 47 days, with time off on Sundays, if you so choose to observe Sundays as feast days, rather than fasting days.
I didn't grow up with the observance of Lent as part of my tradition but I have observed it for most of my adult life. I remember the year I gave up television and someone brought The Princess Bride to my house midway through the fast. It was relatively new at the time and I had never seen it. Imagine your first introduction to ROUS and iocane powder and the six-fingered man being all audio, from around the corner.
Two and three years ago, I gave up Facebook for Lent and it was a good discipline for me.
For some reason, this year, I'm slow to reveal what I gave up, but I'm willing to say that one of the things I gave up is a kind of food and the other is a kind of behaviour.
Sunday at church, my fasts made a lot of sense. It's not about giving up something one should give up -- I always give up smoking for Lent, ha ha -- but more choosing to learn to say yes to suffering on the smallest scale and to say no to self, to identify with Jesus and to train oneself in the way of willingness to sacrifice.
I had a dream the night before I herniated a disk in my back, five years ago, and it was one of Those Dreams. Again, I don't want to give it all away but in the dream I was avoiding suffering any way I could and also advising someone else to do likewise.
Neither the sermon nor the dream should make you think that I think we should seek out suffering or that the Bible teaches doing that, but whether it's as small as minor forms of self-discipline for a set period of time or willingness to identify with oppressed people, at the core of the Christian faith is the cross: the place where love and sorrow meet.
Except today, all I can think about is what I can't eat. Today, for the first time in two weeks I have a full-blown craaaaaaaaaaving. This often happens at some point in Lent, when the discipline seems utterly unconnected to anything higher and the decision to persist seems stupid.
So today, there's suffering.
The place I go to for retreats has a labyrinth made of field stones and punctuated by gnarled, thorny bushes. Unlike a maze, if you walk the labyrinth, you will make it to the centre and out again. I like walking the labyrinth, but nearly every time I walk it, I'm struck by the wild notion that I could simply step across the stones and make my way to the centre in three seconds flat. It's kind of compelling, in the same way you can picture yourself falling as you watch Niagara Falls in all its power. Or in the same way that a craving hits during a fast.
But you walk the circle of the labyrinth or the hunger of a fast by choice and it becomes something more, something consecrated and transformative.
That's not what my tastebuds say just now, but I believe it to be true. And so I wait for Sunday and for that Sunday.