FASTING & SELF DENIAL
Benedictine monks take obedience as one of their vows. A brother from Glenstal Abbey once described obedience as a type of fasting; fasting from having to have a say on everything, from always being right, from my way being the best way; fasting from having the last word, or from pre-judging another. Thought of this way, fasting is not just about food, though that is what we associate it with most. It can be nearly everything.
In a way it is about creating a clearing. The brother at Glenstal was describing fasting as a clearing in which he might learn attentiveness, simplicity and humility.
In another way fasting reveals to us how driven we are, how attached to things and patterns. Only when we try to fast from something, deny ourselves something, do we see the hold it might have over us. A print in the Vestry of the Cathedral reads, “ Give me coffee, and no-one gets hurt!”. Here, prayerfully, we can seek a clearing of all that gets in the way of God, so that only his Love holds sway at the centre of our lives. Though difficult, the practice of fasting can then bring an intensity and focus to our prayers.
CONNECTING WITH GOD’S WORD
For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you; but if you do not forgive others, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.
‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.*
‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust* consume and where thieves break in and steal; but store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust* consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.
Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it. What does it profit them if they gain the whole world, but lose or forfeit themselves?
How do these passages speak to you?
Read it aloud.
Read it slowly.
Read it silently and let a verse, a phrase, a word, a thought, pop up like a cork in water.
Think about that.
Let your thoughts become a prayer.
Then let your prayer pass over into silence.
CONNECTING WITH THE SAINTS
I have a need of such a clearance as the Saviour effected in the temple of Jerusalem a riddance of the clutter of what is secondary that blocks the way to the all-important central emptiness which is filled with the presence of God alone. Jean Danielou
It is not complicated to lead the spiritual life. But it is difficult. We are blind, and subject to a thousand illusions. We must expect to be making mistakes almost all the time. We must be content to fall repeatedly and to begin again to try to deny ourselves, for the love of God. Thomas Merton
Thou must be emptied of that wherewith thou art full, that thou mayest be filled with that whereof thou art empty. Saint Augustine
CONNECTING WITH OURSELVES
Isaac Watts writes a deep meditation on the love of God revealed in the cross. A survey is a close examination, and when we see someone survey a road using a theodolite, they are examining the contours and distances of a road with a precision optical instrument. Indeed the dictionary goes on to say that it measures angles between designated visible points in horizontal and vertical planes…and a horizontal and vertical plane make a cross. The hymn looks at the different angles of the cross, describing the death and loss of blood. Then it goes on to look at what brought Jesus here and sees the sorrow and the love, the amazing divine love.
In view of this the hymn also looks at what we might lay down, and let go before the cross, and such love; our gains and possessions, our vanity and our pride, our obsessions and our distractions.
The road survey examines and records the area and features of an area of land so as to construct a map, plan, or description. This beautiful hymn, helping us survey the wondrous cross, does so to lead us to a response, an all-embracing response. Here self-denial moves into the self-offering of “my soul, my life, my all.”
You might sing the following quietly to yourself. You could also listen to it or simply read slowly through the words
When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.
Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.
See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?
Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.
In a fortnight we look at Reading & Meditating on God’s Word.
We continue with these verses and prayers to memorise,
or use for gentle repetition as a prayer word.
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart
be now and always pleasing in your sight O Lord our Rock and Redeemer.
Lord Jesus help us love as you have loved us, forgive as you forgive us,
and embody all you teach.
Help us be still and know that you are God.
Help us listen to others with kindness.
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