You may not participate in Lent but fasting as spiritual practice has been practiced around the globe for millennia. It might be the exact practice you need to get what you most want.
Last year while many were itching to get back out into the world, to return to the good old days, I was wistfully fantasizing about a more monastic life, a life of study, longer meditations, and talks with God. I took more delight in the simple miracles of beauty available in nature. I reveled in the entertainment provided by my own mind, and the quiet, so much glorious quiet… From this slower and quieter place in my being bubbled up an interest in Jesus’ 40 days in the desert.
I was inspired by the ‘time out’ he took to be with God- uninterrupted and solo. (As a mom who is a full-time minister, the uninterrupted part seemed like an out of reach, delicious luxury!) The bible story of Jesus being led into the desert to vanquish the Devil is marketed in many ways, but the point for me is he went into the desert, up the mountains, out to the wilderness BY HIMSELF to hang out with God. I’m all in!
I got so into this concept that I began to think about offering a retreat based in the New Mexico desert. I started to plan a lovely couple of days filled with yummy food, desert walks, lots of quiet so folks could commune with the One, uninterrupted. I even went to visit a simple retreat space out in the not so far reaches of the desert. I decided I would offer the retreat in early 2022.
And then Spirit said yes, as only Spirit does…
Spirit got to work answering my prayers in miraculous and earth shaking ways…tearing away, dismantling, and disappearing beloved people from my life. In mere weeks, the landscape of my daily life began to resemble the barren landscape of the desert in heart shattering ways. I was getting my very own 40 days in the desert on steroids!
Grief like I have never known overtook me. Exhaustion that had been impatiently waiting in the wings took center stage. The usual entertainment of my ever busy mind went on hiatus. The silent emptiness was neither comforting nor painful, it just was. One of my mentors told me that I had the grief flu. The losses had piled up and had not only taken beloveds from my day to day, but cleared the decks. It mandated a different kind of 40 day fast in the desert that I was not expecting. There was simply nothing to do except be in it.
The fast that Spirit led me into was not one we may typically think of as a fast. The letting go I was being required to do had very little to do with food and water. The reality is many of my “meals”consisted of chocolate and popcorn. But more necessary were the identity forming values and activities I had to put down. I had to fast from my greatest temptations- people pleasing, busyness, other people's problems, productivity and all that goes with it: email, texting, DM’s, and the like. These are my greatest distractions from the One. Now, they were no longer an option.
These temptations had my phone blowing up, so I turned it off. My computer gathered dust. Even when the neighbor shouted over the fence for help with moving something heavy, I somehow managed to say no (not without a little guilt, of course). In this barren desert place, in grief’s excruciating pain, I was brought to my knees.
“With bended knees, with hands outstretched, do I yearn for the effective expression of the holy spirit working within me.”
This is an ancient Zoroastrian prayer and has been with me as my own prayer for many years. But in this desert place, my familiar yearning turned to begging and finally into surrender. Grief has a magical (and so flipping painful!) way of ushering in surrender to the One. When there is no relief from the pain, no distraction that actually distracts, nowhere left to turn, the One is there, working in me- arms wide open, ever waiting for me to enter.
And so it was there, in that surrendered place, that I realized I’d been forever changed. It was there, in the arms of the One, that I discovered my deep sorrow was matched by my greater capacity for JOY! That my weary heavy heart was not only filled with sadness but also with an easy delight. That the yearning for a deeper experience of the One was being met. My prayers were being answered. And yet it sucked, it hurt, and hurts still. And somehow, it is exactly what I wanted…
In spiritual community, we say we are all for transformation and spiritual growth and that we want to live spiritual lives… but that means we must be willing to surrender to something greater, the One that is within AND beyond all we know, see and understand. We must allow that surrender to change us, to teach us, to grow us, and most importantly to help us meet the circumstances of our lives with Faith, capital F Faith, knowing that Spirit is ‘all up in it,’ especially when we can’t see it or feel it. Even when grief knocks us to our knees, even when violence and war creating power grabs are erupting around the globe, even when we have no fricking idea what is on the other side, we surrender to the holy spirit working in us and beyond us with Faith. We know that Spirit is right there and we enter the arms of the One and allow, and listen, and BE. This is spiritual living.
"One] shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” -Jesus of Nazareth at the end of his 40 days in the desert.
As people committed to spiritual living, it is ours to live by conscious contact with the Divine that we can only access in our own beings. We must listen to God speaking in our own beings and let Its every word guide our living. And ‘wowza’ do we have to become good listeners, and ‘double wowza’ the world sure is a crazy-noisy place. But this is the call of our commitment, this is the call of our lives.
My 40 days in the desert have been like Spirit hitting my life’s volume button and turning it way wayyyyyy down. Sometimes that has meant that all I can hear is my own raspy breath as I breathe through the pain and tears. Also, the many birdsongs in my neighborhood are more familiar to me now. It has changed my playlists, my habits, some beliefs, and it is still working on me. My heart still hurts like crazy and tears seem to be a constant companion, sometimes springing from sadness, yet more and more from laughter. I am softer now, I am slower now, and I am humbly committed to surrendering even more to the word of God in me and It’s effective expression as my life.
Lent begins on March 2 this year. Whether you celebrate Lent, Ramadan, the Baha’i fast or none of the above, consider what is your greatest distraction from your divine nature? Whatever your answer is, it is the perfect choice for your custom designed fast.
I am right here with you on this adventure of spiritual living.
I love you to pieces,