Why Do We Fast?

Happy Shrove Tuesday!

While we all know that the most important kind of fasting we can do during Lent (or anytime!) is to fast from hurtful behaviors such as gossip and greed, we might be wondering if there is still a place for “traditional” fasting in our spiritual lives.

Can’t the two types of fasting go together? Of course they can! Anything we do with our bodies is not meant to stop there. Fasting with our bodies—if done thoughtfully, with meaning and purpose—can change our hearts. And our changed hearts can change the world.

I hope you will enjoy my Lent article “10 Reasons to Fast This Lent” in this month’s St. Anthony Messenger, available online here. The print magazine includes some creative ideas for fasting.

And for those who are local, I hope you will join me, Sr. Virginia Herbers, and Deacon Art Miller as we team up with Peter DeMarco and the Saint Ann Choir for a One-Night Lenten Mission on March 13 in Hamden, CT. Details are below.

Lenten blessings!

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Ancient God, How Young You Are

I can’t remember how or when I came across this poem written in 1983 by Jim Forest, legendary peace activist, biographer, and friend of Thomas Merton and Dorothy Day.  But I found it so kind and intimate in its portrayal of the loving relationship between creature and Creator. Jim has given me permission to share the poem, which was written while he was honeymooning with his wife Nancy in France. The poem was inspired by a sculpture at Chartres Cathedral (pictured below).

Ancient God, how young you are
I know your touch
It is in that motion of
your hands on my head
that I recognize you
and remember
that first day
when you called me Adam
and your knee
was my pillow
when I first opened
my eyes.

Jim’s most recent biography is At Play in the Lion’s Den: A Memoir and Biography of Daniel Berrigan. He is currently working on an autobiography. Visit Jim and Nancy at jimandnancyforest.com. And see Jim’s collection of Adam & Eve art at flickr.com.

Pictured from left to right: The sculpture at Chartres that inspired Jim’s poem; a copy of the original, hand-written poem; Go On, Adam by Jack Baumgartner, shared with permission (visit Jack’s website here); The Creation of Adam by Michelangelo.

The Hardest Word

In 2006, I had two reconstructive hip surgeries (“triple pelvic osteotomy” for those who like to google). The first operation was a success hip-wise, but it was hard on my body. When I woke up in recovery, my pain was out of control. Over the next several days I had five or six blood transfusions, erratic heart rates, and pain. A lot of pain. I remember how lonely the pain felt, like no one else understood. I felt completely alone.

Six months later when I returned to the hospital to repeat the surgery on the other side, I remember looking into my surgeon’s eyes. He wasn’t the touchy-feely type. He wasn’t really a good listener. Not much of a talker either. But before we went into surgery he said something reassuring that—for him—probably required mustering forth and dusting off some nurturing spirit from deep within. I remember something firm, something I could hold onto, something like: “That’s not going to happen to you again. Not on my watch.” And then I told him the truth: “I trust you.”

As the anesthesia took effect and I drifted into unconsciousness, I felt deeply the reality of what I had done. Trust has no guarantees.

Trust may be the hardest thing we will ever do—harder even than love. Because trust so rarely comes with feel-good emotions. It is more often just a choice we make. But without it, we are utterly paralyzed. Without it we are so afraid, afraid of everything. This is no way to live.

Trust is not something that is cavalierly restored, once it has been broken. Sometimes it is never restored at all. But something happens when someone looks us in the eye, and from the heart, speaks restoring words—words like never again and not on my watch—and then does restoring things, like setting bones right, or listening, or being humble, or changing. Trust has no guarantees. But we are only half-alive if we never trust. Our whole human community is based on our ability to do this one hardest thing.

I pray that trust will be restored in our Church, and in the life of every person affected by the pain inflicted by and in this Body. Now we feel the cutting of the bones, the loneliness of the pain, the confusion of the aftermath. I pray for healing for every single one of us, so we can trust again, so we can be a healed, restored, strengthened, unafraid Body.

May God heal our Church and restore trust among us.

“I trust in God, I do not fear” (Ps 56:5).

A favorite picture of my husband and daughter, an image of trust.

A favorite picture of my husband and daughter, an image of trust.

Announcements:

  • Save the date for our One-Night Lenten Mission 2019! A Nor’easter got us in 2018, but we’re trying again! Hear 3 speakers and 1 wonderful choir! Wed., Mar. 13, 7:00 pm, 295 Benham St., Hamden, CT. Snow date is Mar. 15. For more information, go to amyekeh.com/lent.

  • If you’re looking for a Lenten devotional for use by yourself or with a group, why not try my 3-session book Lent: Season of Transformation? It’s a nice, neat little package of Scripture, commentary, reflection questions, and prayers. You can buy it on amazon, or purchase it at littlerockscripture.org for bulk rates!

  • Thanks for bearing with my slow blog pace! Someday when my kids are grown, I’ll miss these busy days! But for now, I’m just trying to keep up! Blessings, all!

The Last Gift of Christmas

This year, the last gift of Christmas was a Starburst.

Even more impractical than gold, frankincense, and myrrh was this gigantic chunk of sugar and food coloring left for a baby with no teeth.

Some years, Lego figures visit our manger. One year a tiny skateboard waited in the stable, in case Jesus wanted to ride it later. Barbie probably would have gone in too if she wasn’t so tall. But this year, just when I thought no one was paying any attention to the manger, the last gift of Christmas was left for the baby.

Not the yellow Starburst that no one wants. The red Starburst, the prize.

May the last gift of Christmas always be for the child in the manger. If it hurts a little to give it, then we know it came from deep within, from a place that wants more than what this world can give. And whatever we give him, may it come back to us in good measure—packed together, shaken down, overflowing, poured into our laps (Lk 6:38)!

About a week after Christmas, Eli retrieved the candy from the manger and began to unwrap it. “He said I could have it,” Eli told me.

About a week after Christmas, Eli retrieved the candy from the manger and began to unwrap it. “He said I could have it,” Eli told me.

And the Soul Felt Its Worth

In the book of Genesis, God’s first words to human beings after sin enters the world are: “Where are you?” (Gen 3:9).

Deeply emblematic of the rupture between humans and God, these probing words both sadden and inspire us. On one hand, we respond: “I’m sorry! I’m ashamed!” On the other: “I’m here, God! I’m here!”

It is in answer to both of these gut responses that Jesus has come. It is in response to both that he is born in us at Christmas. For God so loved the world that God also calls out: “I’m here!”

This Christmas, my prayer is that a reassurance, a peace that passes all understanding, will lodge in our hearts—a reassurance that there is no more need for God and for us to call out to each other with those heartbroken words: “Where are you?” No more rupture, no more shame. Christ our Savior is born . . . and the soul felt its worth!

Merry Christmas, all!

* * * * * * * * * * *

Thank you to my friend Jeanne for sharing these words of encouragement from the New York Times: “Staying Catholic at Christmas.”

My December column for Catholic Digest is available online: “5 Bible Facts for Advent.”

The Saint Ann Choir will give a free Christmas concert on Sun., Dec. 30, 4:00 p.m., 501 Naugatuck Ave., Milford, CT. I look forward to seeing some of you there!

A note on today’s blog: The fact that God’s first words to Adam and Eve after they sinned were “Where are you?” is pointed about by Enzo Bianchi in his wonderful little book God, where are you? Practical Answers to Spiritual Questions. He says that God asks Adam and Eve where they are, but soon enough, we begin to ask God where he is! Christmas is an especially fruitful time to ponder these questions.

Saincilus Ishmael, Acrylic on Wood, Courtesy    Sacred Art Pilgrim   .

Saincilus Ishmael, Acrylic on Wood, Courtesy Sacred Art Pilgrim.