During yesterday’s Morning Prayer with the staff, we read Matthew 6:16-24 and Deuteronomy 4:15-24. Deuteronomy warns us against idolatry; in the Matthew passage Jesus exhorts us to not lay up treasures on earth. We got into a discussion about the tension between receiving God’s material blessings as gifts from the good hand of God and becoming idolaters of these same gifts. Good food, beautiful homes, art, music, opportunities and means for play and recreation, can all be received as “the gifts of God.” Unfortunately, any of us can learn to love the gift more than the Giver and find ourselves unwitting idolaters. The human soul has an amazing capacity to take anything God gives and make it an idol. (Have you ever met anyone who made an idol of theology? I have.)
At the same time, our souls are no better off with an asceticism which fails to see the goodness of created life and the material world. C.S. Lewis wisely observes about “the gluttony of over-meticulous eaters” – people who are so picky that few things meet their standards of taste, health, novelty, or organicness (that’s my word: lest you think I’m criticizing you, I am a Whole Foods geek).
So what the answer? The wisdom of the Church fathers was to strike a healthy balance between feasting and fasting. “God has given us all thing richly to enjoy” – so feast! Celebrate! Great food and wine, smells that tantalize, beautiful table decorations, laughter and joy with friends and family, the best jazz piano playing the background: receive it as a gift from the hand of God. “All things are lawful for me, but not all things are helpful. All things are lawful for me, but I will not be enslaved by anything” – so fast! Stop feasting on the gifts, and feast on the Giver.
Fasting is the great practical antidote to idolatry. It allows us to lay aside for a period the thing that is in danger of taking over our hearts and becoming our treasure. It allows us to realize that the creation is not nearly as sweet as the Creator. It frees up time and energy to focus on nurturing the soul and to insure that, yes, we can actually survive without the thing to which we have become habituated (a word dangerously close to addicted). Our lives are really not dependent on that thing – in fact, it is a gift from God, and God is better than the gift.
Lent is part of the regular cycle of feasting and fasting built into the Christian year. It is a time of fasting. I find it wonderfully freeing to entirely forego something for a period of time and have my growing, idolatrous addictions nipped in the bud. It makes the times of feasting so much more delightful. But is not just a season of freedom from: it is also a season of freedom to. It is a time of feasting on the Lord – of a much quieter approach that gives my soul space to listen and hear the voice of the Father. And there is no greater freedom than that.
-Rev. Steve Breedlove
Please join the community of All Saints Church for our Ash Wednesday Services on March 9!
Brief service including imposition of ashes: 12-12:30pm
Ash Wednesday Eucharist Service followed by opportunity to receive soaking prayer: 7pm