February 25, 2015

Last week I suggested you consider participating in Lent by subtracting in order to add.  I hope you’ve taken me up on the suggestion.  I have only participated in Lent a few years, but have found the practice meaningful and enriching.  Each of the last four years my practice has been different.  This year I have decided to sacrifice some sleep, waking up 30 minutes earlier than I would otherwise.  I have chosen to add a topical study on Hope.  Since I carved out the snow sculpture I have been intrigued with the idea of exploring hope  more fully.  So I take those 30 extra minutes in the morning to study.  It has been good.  I will share  more of that in the future.

Here is a reflection I wrote in 2012, my very first year participating in Lent.   This continues to resonate with me.  See if it does with you.

I made the decision to observe Lent by fasting one  day a week over breakfast and lunch.  I made the decision on my way to work a few days after Lent had begun and wanted to begin right away.  I decided to forego the breakfast and lunch I had packed and jump right into my first fasting day.

I work as a supervisor of a convenience store, though when I say that I suspect that you have in mind your corner Speedy Mart.  This convenience store is bigger than most.   Inside is a deli and brick oven pizza shop.  Recently, we added to our food service offerings by opening a Tim Horton’s within the store.  All of these fall under the umbrella of my supervision.

On this day, the Tim Horton’s staff was running behind.  The store was open and the donuts were still being made.  I passed the display case and said to the Tim Horton’s manager, “Where are your raspberry filled donuts?” noting the empty tray.

“I’m working on it, Phil.” she replied.

“That’s too bad” I said, in jest “I was going to get a couple.”  A subtle reminder that you can’t sell anything off an empty tray.

I got busy doing other things. When I got back to my computer, I found a little baggie with three raspberry filled Timbits waiting for me.

My first fasting day.  No food till dinner.  But I have a horrible weakness for donuts.  (I’m making excuses already, before I’ve even confessed.)  I can discipline myself to not buy any, but when they are left at my computer as a token of penance for empty donut trays they trump my own Lenten token of penance.  I ate the Tim Bits.  Not even 8 o’clock in the morning and I broke my fast.

Guilt set in, even before I licked the powdered sugar from the corners of my mouth.  How could my resolve be so weak? How could three Timbits so quickly derail my spiritual discipline of fasting?  How could I be swayed from my decision with such trifles; Lenten suffering set aside for deep fried, jelly filled, powdered sugar encrusted dough balls.

In the book of Hosea, God compares his love for the nation of Israel to the Israelites love of raisin cakes. “…the Lord loves the sons of Israel, though they turn to other gods and love raisin cakes.” (Hosea 3:1). Parallel uses of love, gratingly disproportionate. God loves Israel, Israel loves raisin cakes.

Why raisin cakes?  Remember, this was written before the development of refined sugar. There was no Hostess or Little Debbies, Cold Stone Creamery or Reeses Peanut Butter Cups, Oreos or shamrock shakes.   If they wanted a taste of sweetness, their options were limited.  Honey or fruit.  Raisin cakes had both.  This was their desert, a morsel of sweetness in an otherwise bland diet, a special treat whose aroma in the oven would bring the kids running.  This is as close as they had to junk food.

And this is singled out as the object of their affection.   God loves them; they love desert.  The contrast is jarring.  The incongruity is outrageous.  And it touches close to home.

I had determined to enter into the suffering of Christ with my meager act of self-deprivation.  Jesus offered his life, I would offer two meals.  And this small sacrifice was deemed too great in the face of three powdery donut holes. God loves me and I love Timbits, the modern day upgrade of the Israelite raisin cake.

So I staggered out of the gate.  My first day of fasting didn’t last very long.  But sometimes we learn more in our humiliating stumbles than in our graceful strides, This would give context to my fasting.  In the aftermath of my failure I could sense God posing a question, a loving rebuke, “Do you love me more than Timbits?”  I am ashamed at my initial answer.  But since then I have carried that question with me.  Fasting days are now not just about denying myself food and entering into the suffering of Christ.  They are also an expression of love, a demonstration that I love God more than I love any tasty treat.

Keep On,

Pastor Phil