Feast or Fast? On this St Patrick’s Day consider a few words from the prayer known as St Patrick’s Breastplate –
Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me, Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right, Christ on my left, Christ when I lie down, Christ when I sit down, Christ in the heart of everyone who thinks of me, Christ in the mouth of everyone who speaks of me, Christ in the eye that sees me, Christ in the ear that hears me.
Has it been a busy week, a slow week, a week that dragged on, a week that flew past? A routine week? A week with surprises or is it hard to recount the week because it was just like so many before?
Maybe one of the chief benefits of Lent is that it can help us be present in each day and consider what we are doing. It just might take us off automatic pilot and we see and hear and feel as we walk through another week.
Maybe as we consider the week past, we can take to heart our Lenten prayer’s encouragement to “feast on purposeful silence.” And in that silence notice what we otherwise missed in the week past.
Several years ago I was in a study group at a local congregation and it was our custom to start each evening with “on-board time.” – A short time when we went around the group to check in on what was happening during the week since we last got together and to help us move any of that out of the way during our time together that evening – On one particular evening we started with the question, “Where have you seen ministry these last few days?” As we each had time to answer the question each person mentioned an event that stood out to them – except one person, who said “I haven’t seen any ministry?” I was surprised by his answer, maybe even more surprised by his honesty, and sadden for him. Later that night, when we were into our study for the evening, he said, “Now I remember!” We paused our study to let him tell us what he had seen. I suspect he had not been “paying attention” to our study that evening, but also suspect he was doing an more important work; a work that probably was much more profitable than whatever we were otherwise talking about.
I invite you to look back over the prayer we have been thinking about, pick a moment of feast mentioned in the prayer and look back over you last few days or last week, and see if you find moments of feasting.
Since I first came across this prayer several years ago, I have shared it a number of times in a number of places. Today, this first Friday of Lent, it seems a good time to share it again.
Allow me a suggestion. Today and this weekend read over the prayer a few times and see what pair(s) draw you the most. Then as you have occasion offer that as your prayer. And maybe on this Sunday, the first feast day of this year’s Lenten season, you can see how you are drawn to God’s banquet table. We’ll get back together Monday to see how it has been.
And now, the prayer –
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ indwelling in them.
Fast from emphasis on differences; feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on trust.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on nonviolence.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
Gentle God, during this season of fasting and feasting, gift us with your presence so we can be a gift to others in carrying out your work.
So we start again. Yesterday – call it Mardi Gras or Shrove Tuesday or Pancake Day – concluded the season before Lent, and today marks the entrance into the season of Lent.
As of late Linda and I have been reading Timothy and Kathy Keller’s book, The Songs of Jesus: A Year of Devotions in the Psalms. Yesterday’s reading for March 5 calls one to,
Build an identity that gets it significance (“glory”) – makes its “boast” (Jeremiah 9:23-24) – not from our accomplishments or racial identity or talent or moral efforts or family but from God …. How can we get such an identity? By not just believing in God but “tasting” and experiencing God’s goodness in prayer (Psalm 34:9). And by comforting afflicted peoples with the comfort we have received (Psalm 34:2, 2 Corinthians 1:3-4) until they can glorify God with us (Psalm 34:3). (p 64)
Psalm 34:1-3 – I will extol the Lord at all times; his praise will always be on my lips. I will glorify in the Lord; let the afflicted hear and rejoice. Glorify the Lord with me; let us exalt his name together.
As we enter the season of Lent, by what we do or don’t do, by our fast or by our feast, maybe we can let the focus not be on our success or failure in our Lenten practices but on how God uses such to root our identity in God’s goodness, grace and glory.
One last thought before the start of Lent tomorrow, Ash Wednesday.
Do you doodle, color, draw? If you do, or maybe think about such, or have any coloring books around (adult or kids), I have something for you to look at.
Sybil MacBeth is the author of Praying with Color and has a website ( https://prayingincolor.com/ ) where she offers this for times when,
1) You want to pray but words escape you. 2) Sitting still and staying focused in prayer are a challenge. 3) Your body wants to be part of your prayer. 4) You want to just hang out with God but don’t know how. 5) Listening to God feels like an impossible task . 6) Your mind wanders and your body complains. 7) You want a visual, concrete way to pray. 8) You Need a new way to pray.
And, for your more immediate consideration on her blog she offers several Lenten calendar templates – https://prayingincolor.com/blog you can print and try out for yourself.
Of course, you are not limited to her templates. Get a sheet of paper, or open your journal, pick up some coloring pencils or crayons, and see what happens.
The Society of St Andrew has published a small devotional booklet for Lent ( https://endhunger.org/lent/ ). The devotions are short and are accompanied by a suggested scripture passage and a prayer.
I’ve read a number of the devotions already (is that cheating on my Lenten practice?) and to me they seem to offer an intriguing blend of loss and blessing. At first that annoyed me. But then I realized maybe that is not so intriguing after all. Maybe that is one of the reminders Lent can offer us.
The Society publishes a paper copy of the devotional booklet. They also have a PDF copy you can download. And you can subscribe to the devotions to have them delivered to your email each day. While the Society has no more of the paper booklets to mail out, I was able to get some to share with our congregation and have some left. If you want a paper copy of the booklet leave a comment here (but don’t post your email address or street address here) and I will work out getting a copy to you.
Also, visit the Society’s web site and read about their work in feeding the hungry. They do an impressive amount of good for folks.
Can I give you one more suggestion to add focus to your walk through Lent.
How about prayer? How about some help in bringing focus to your prayer.
Rachel Hackenberg wrote the book Writing to God. She suggests that when we take time to write our prayers we are able to focus “our prayers through the tips of our pens, we can shift our self-consciousness into creativity and engage God anew, as prayer becomes an active experience of mind, body and spirit.“
Each week she emails a prayer prompt which includes a sentence or two from Scripture, a thought and a brief prompt to encourage your seeing the Scripture leading you into a conversation with God. For example, in her book, when reading Ezekiel 37:1-3, she writes,
“What dry bones in your life need a breath of fresh air, a burst of new life, from the Spirit? Let your written prayer to God be God’s words of encouragement to you as you let God dust off the dry and weary places or your spirit.”
During Lent Rev Hackenberg emails a daily prayer prompt. If you would like to subscribe to her emails, you can visit the contact page at her web site ( http://rachelhackenberg.com/contact/ ) to subscribe.
Yesterday I started our thinking about Lenten practices with some links to a “40 Day Journey with Dietrich Bonhoeffer” and today I want to offer another suggestion.
But first, a word of caution. Please, please, don’t think I am suggesting you take on two, three, five, seven or more Lenten practices. You can buy into too many activities and can’t pay the price in time, or focus for any one of them. I know this from personal experience. Be cautious. Over the next few days I will offer several suggestions and hope you find one that draws you and you give it a try.
So for #2 I want to point you to an online discussion I read about recently.
Englewood Review of Books will be hosting a Lenten Book Conversation on Abraham Joshua Heschel’s book The Sabbath. While I have not yet read this volume of Heschel’s, all I have read of his in the past has been not only well written but profitable.
When I first read of this online discussion a digital copy of the ebook was $1.99, unfortunately the price is now $9.94. While I still recommend the book and discussion, I also recommend waiting to see if the price goes down again. If I see that it goes down, I will post an update.
Before we close today, a few words from Heschel,
Six days a week we wrestle with the world, wringing profit from the earth; on the Sabbath we especially care for the seed of eternity planted in the soul. The world has our hands, but our soul belongs to Someone Else. Six days a week we seek to dominate the world, on the seventh day we try to dominate the self.
Maybe Lent could be, in part, a time for withdrawal from the daily routines to a place of Sabbath rest and … you tell me – what does your soul need?