Cookies for Ashes

18 Feb

I’ve been thinking the past few days of what I should “give up” for Lent. And then I thought, “Why am I giving up anything?” I was raised in the Pentecostal church and I don’t think I learned about Lent until I was in high school. Even then, I didn’t fully grasp what the whole season was about. To be honest, I still don’t. I know it’s about preparing for Easter, about penitence and self-denial…but why? I was wondering today if the whole idea of fasting during Lent comes from the Medieval idea that one must suffer in order to placate a wrathful God. Hmm. The thing is, I don’t believe in a wrathful God who needs placating, especially after Jesus’ final say on the cross.

I picked up a book of wisdom from G.K. Chesterton specifically compiled for Lent and Easter, and the first entry for Ash Wednesday addresses the idea of Christian asceticism, giving up things that are pleasurable to one’s self. Chesterton offers this prayer:

Father, we offer to you only what we have been given from you: our bodies and our selves. Show us how we can worship you through the use of our bodies and the giving of ourselves. We want to live for others, as your Son has taught us.

I love how Chesterton makes things so practical. We’re not sacrificing pleasure so that we can have little piles of ashes to lay at the feet of an angry God…we’re sacrificing ourselves–our time, gifts, and attention. The editors of the book say that Chesterton’s point may have been that “we are always free to give up these pleasures and at times are drawn to do so out of love for others.” They use the example of giving up an hour of sleep to speak with someone who needs our attention. Yikes. That’s a lot more difficult than giving up sweets for 40 days, but that’s the kind of attitude I want to have this season–my life is not my own, and that means constant small sacrifices, not for the sake of sacrifice but for the sake of love. And this way, I still get to eat cookies.

P.S. This is why it’s a perfect time to watch Chocolat…gives a really good perspective on Lent, fasting, religion…and Johnny Depp with an Irish Gypsy accent is the cherry on top.

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3 Responses to “Cookies for Ashes”

  1. grackyfrogg February 18, 2010 at 12:53 am #

    funny, i just finished writing up my own blog about Lent. i definitely don’t think of the season as a method of placating an angry God. instead, i think of it as a time for personal recalibration, if you will. it’s a time of preparation; of clearing out the clutter that’s accumulated in our hearts and minds and reminding ourselves of what Christ did for us when he died — and when he rose again. Lent isn’t for God; it’s for us. anyway, check out the post if you get a chance and let me know what you think: Ash Wednesday

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  2. Jessica Hamlin February 18, 2010 at 1:27 am #

    I always enjoy your blog entries, Joy. I was afraid this entry would be about you fasting from cookies and I was thinking how interesting it is that women often give up sweets for Lent, which looks holy, when they’re really just going on a diet and secretly hoping to be slimmer in 40 days. What a sacrifice. 😉 Not that food can’t be something we all overindulge in–definitely me included. But balance is key, as is an awareness of why we’re consuming what we do.

    I’m all for fasting, though I think questioning our motives for fasting and what we choose to fast from is important. I don’t think of fasting as suffering to placate God, but a chance to rid ourselves of distractions and focus more on Him. I learn so much about myself when I’m at my lowest and don’t have my usual coping mechanisms and comforts. This may result from a traditional fast or something else, like a Missions trip.

    I’ve never done a Lenten fast. Not because I believe I don’t need to fast from anything, but because I don’t know what major thing I can realistically fast from for 40 days. And that thought means I’m already relying too much on things other than God.

    However, I think even if we begin a fast because we want to hop on the Deprivation Bandwagon and perhaps look holy, even that has the potential to change us. Going without something pleasurable (food, TV, facebook) for 40 days is hard. I imagine that even if it began with gritting teeth just to get through each day without [insert enjoyable thing here], it would hopefully also include realization of how much we may rely on that thing to fill a certain need, and how much we need to turn to Him instead. I know this is tres cliche and nothing new to you. And sure, the jaded part of me wonders how much I’d retain once off the fast. But that’s my issue.

    Giving up something–ourselves–is indeed something we do out of love. Out of love for God, love for others because of our love for God, and His love for us. When it becomes about just avoiding cookies and not digging any deeper into why we’re giving up those cookies, then it’s really just a diet.

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    • netanya February 18, 2010 at 1:03 pm #

      Thank you for your insightful comments, girls. Grace, I really like the idea of “recalibration.” I agree that we can make Lent that kind of time for ourselves. And Jessica, YES I know what you mean about the “fast/diet,” as I have been guilty of that myself and that’s actually a huge part of what sparked this discussion for me yesterday. I tend to shy away from aesthetic spirituality because I already dabble too much with self-punishment in other areas of my life…I need to learn to receive God’s grace for me, have grace for myself, and extend it to others. When I am making rigid rules for myself, I end up being miserable on the inside and miserable company, as well. But I agree with you that Lent is a good time to see what we are relying on instead of God…and the idea of removing certain coping mechanisms from our lives. I’ve actually fasted from sweets before (outside of Lent) for that very reason, and it proved quite interesting. My Lenten “fast” this year will have to do with severely limiting my time on Facebook and also being aware of little things I can give up, as I said in my original post, such as a few minutes of my time to do my roommate’s dishes! Anyway, this is the best and worst part of a blog…I throw ideas up there and then wish that I could revise them once I think a little more and also hear others’ thoughts.

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