Posted by: jevcat | March 23, 2011

The Fast I Choose

We are now in the second week in Lent and, aside from having given up Diet Coke – the first time I’ve ever had the nerve to try this particular “fast” – I have begun to think there is something else from which I’d like to fast:  busy-ness – not usefulness, not having work to do, but busy-ness.  The past couple of weeks have been intensely busy, and I have found myself feeling as though I am on a treadmill of freelance, job search, family and friend obligations, financial juggling, wrangling with bureaucracy, health worries for those near me, chores – and no breathing space.

Although still unemployed, I have begun setting my clock and rising at six (or thereabouts – I haven’t given up the snooze alarm) to fit in time for exercise, prayer, reading, meditation, something I’d been in danger of falling out of doing.  It helps me cope, helps with the stress, and although I am tired much of the time, I feel better.  Since the time change, though, I’ve also noticed an odd thing:  Most years, the spring time change is a burden.  We lose an hour and, yes, it’s nice to have the extra light in the evening, but mornings are suddenly dark again, and I have always hated getting up in the dark.

Not this year, though.  I have been waking up early, anxieties pressing in, and somehow the light only made it worse.  Now, when the alarm goes off, giving me permission to get up – I am often awake anyway – I slip out of bed into a welcoming and friendly dark.  Darkness has a place – we wouldn’t know what light is without it – and darkness can hide, protect.  Moving quietly, I step around or over the dog.  In the kitchen, I pour juice for myself, turn on my Beloved’s espresso machine and make sure all will be ready when he gets up.

From then on, it’s me, the darkness, the silence, and God.  I work with weights and settle into the flowing moves of the Tai Chi-based practice I learned several years ago, feeling my muscles stretch, my back un-kink, the chi – life-force, spirit – rise in me.  I settle in my chair and quiet my mind – or try to – allowing what is beyond me and above me to sink in.  “Here I am sitting,” as my yoga instructor taught me; “All shall be well,” as Julian of Norwich taught; “Listen, and Gentle Be Present,” as the song from the Monks of Weston Priory goes; or just “Help!” (that one’s all mine), finishing, again as my yoga instructor taught me:  “Om, shanti, shanti, om;  peace, peace, peace:  may it be so.”

In the gathering light, I move on to the Daily Office, the morning psalms, with their spectrum of human feeling, reminding me that whatever I am feeling this morning, I am not the first one to feel this way; I am not alone.

Is it a sacrifice to rise so early when, strictly speaking, I do not have to?  I suppose it is, in it’s way, a sort of fast.  Certainly, there are other, more important things that need to be done, personal and political, but my time and energy are limited right now; I can’t do everything, I can’t march and visit Washington to lobby for peace and justice, I can’t be out achieving great things for humanity, sometimes I can’t even get done everything I need to do in my own life.  But I can click to send e-mails, make the odd phone call to my representatives, remember to bring something to church with me on Sunday for the food pantry, try to give some voice to those who have none (a category I lately find often feels as though it includes me), be there for those closest to me, and, in this quiet time before the day launches, for myself.  Dawn is coming:  the day’s and mine.  It’s a start.

6 Is not this the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?
7 Is it not to share your bread with the hungry,
and bring the homeless poor into your house;
when you see the naked, to cover them,
and not to hide yourself from your own kin?

(Isaiah 56:6-7)


  1. What we should give up are things that encapsulate us from being of service to others. That is how I see this scripture. What do you think?

    • Basically, I agree, Carl. I think it’s telling us that outward shows of religion are not what’s important or meaningful. Caring for each other is.

  2. Janet–
    what a lovely, meditative, thoughtful post…I feel blessed by your sharing…by being a part of the journey with you.

    • Thanks, Jane. It feels like you and I often feel similarly — although fortunately, that does not extend to backs, at least at the moment. I hope yours is feeling better.

  3. Fasting from particular foods and drinks is usually easier than fasting from behaviors that impede one’s spiritual life. I learned that the hard way a couple of Lents ago, when I tried to fast from complaining! Thanks for a beautiful, thoughtful reflection in this practice.

    • LOL, I remember that Lent, and your struggle. I hope this year is easier — you’ve got enough struggles elsewhere.

  4. Very nice. Your mention of Julian of Norwich reminds me that at service two weeks ago at St Martin’s in the Field there was a beautiful piece of music by Carson Cooman for organ and choir based on the Prayer of Julian of Norwich using some of this text. I just downloaded it from iTunes.

    “God, of your goodness give me yourself, for you are enough for me, and I can ask for nothing which is less which can pay you full worship. And if I ask anything which is less, always I am in want; but only in you do I have everything.”

    • I adore Julian of Norwich and tend to read her during Lent and just read that passage yesterday or the day before!

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