If you’re like me, you may not be sure what day it is . . . most weekdays look alike right now. But I think it’s Friday, so…welcome to Friday Favorites!
Today, Prasanta Verma and I bring you words of hope for what Marlena Graves, in her article linked below, calls a “heavy season.” As Christians, we believe that, despite the weight of everything pressing down on us right now, there is still reason to hope . . . and to pray, believe, travel (vicariously), and write.
Welcome to Friday Favorites, our round-up of great links from across the web.
This week, Prasanta Verma and I are bringing you posts that give us hope and resources for the difficult time we’re in — how to pray, how to talk to your kids, what to read, what to see, how to write. Read . . . and keep your faith burning bright.
Welcome, friends, to Friday Favorites. The world seems a bit different this week, doesn’t it? There is fear and anxiety over the rapidly emerging public health crisis. There is disappointment as events are cancelled and loneliness creeps in. There is concern for the most vulnerable in our society.
This week, Prasanta Verma and I offer prayers and posts to help us in these troubled times. The first four links below concern the Coronavirus and our spiritual response to it. We also have a post on holding on to hope and a beautiful resource for Lent.
Keep prayer, hope, and beauty in your lives this week and always.
When I was growing up, my best friend and I often gave up Carmex (the medicated lip balm) for Lent. I’m not sure why we felt that was the best way to prepare for the resurrection of Jesus. I guess we believed that we had a Carmex addiction and were relinquishing something very dear to us.
During this season, I like to see what the ancients of the Church say about Lenten practices. Their views are much richer than what I knew of Lent as a child. Last week, we explored St. John Chrysostom’s full-orbed view of fasting. This week, let’s see what St. Benedict (ca. 480-547), founder of the Benedictine monastery at Monte Cassino, has to say.
In his Rule for Monasteries, written in the sixth century, St. Benedict includes a chapter entitled, “On the Observance of Lent.” He writes:
Although the life of a monk
ought to have about it at all times
the character of a Lenten observance,
yet since few have the virtue for that,
we therefore urge that during the actual days of Lent
the brethren keep their lives most pure
and at the same time wash away during these holy days
all the negligences of other times.
And this will be worthily done
if we restrain ourselves from all vices
and give ourselves up to prayer with tears,
to reading, to compunction of heart and to abstinence.
During these days, therefore,
let us increase somewhat the usual burden of our service,
as by private prayers and by abstinence in food and drink.
Thus everyone of his own will may offer God
“with joy of the Holy Spirit” (1 Thess. 1:6)
something above the measure required of him.
From his body, that is,
he may withhold some food, drink, sleep, talking and jesting;
and with the joy of spiritual desire
he may look forward to holy Easter.
For his monks, St. Benedict advises the moderate withholding of food, drink, sleep, and talking. But, like St. John Chrysostom, Benedict also has a fuller view of Lent. He suggests that ideally, Lent is a way of life. A difficult way, to be sure. Yet we are called to prepare our hearts for resurrection during all seasons.
Also note that St. Benedict has suggestions on what to add to our Lenten diet, not just what to give up. We might forego certain foods, but we can add prayer with tears, reading, and compunction of heart—that is, repentance; a holy desire to sin no more.
Speaking of tears, I love the depiction of the weeping Mary of Clopas in Rogier van der Weyden’s Descent from the Cross (ca. 1435). I think about this painting every year during Lent and Holy Week. In the painting, Mary and her companions express overwhelming sorrow as the body of Jesus is taken down from the cross. Mary of Clopas is the figure on the far left. Her tears, which escape from the cloth she has pressed to her eyes, are sacred outpourings of grief that we might emulate on our own journey to the cross.
Yet Benedict ultimately moves us from tears to joy. At the end of the passage, he says that during Lent, Christians are to look forward to Easter with the “joy of spiritual desire.” We know that Easter brings joy, but so should the darker season of Lent bring a somber kind of joy — that of yearning for Christ, whose resurrection we await.
May this unique joy be yours as you prepare for resurrection and renewal in your own life.
Today’s meditation reminds us that although we can fast with our body, a traditional Lenten practice, we can also and more importantly fast — and feast — with our minds, our hearts and our life.
Fast from judging others;
Feast on Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from fear of illness;
Feast on the healing power of God.
Fast from words that pollute;
Feast on speech that purifies.
Fast from discontent;
Feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger;
Feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism;
Feast on hope.
Fast from negatives;
Feast on encouragement.
Fast from bitterness;
Feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern;
Feast on compassion.
Fast from suspicion;
Feast on truth.
Fast from gossip;
Feast on purposeful silence.
Fast from problems that overwhelm;
Feast on prayer that sustains.
Fast from anxiety;
Feast on faith.
Welcome to Friday Favorites! Each week, Prasanta Verma and I round up some of our favorite posts on prayer, writing, and the contemplative life. We hope they’ll be a source of hope and encouragement for you.
This week, our round-up includes posts on Lent, songs of lament, and the 500-year-old sounds of Hagia Sophia. Enjoy, and be blessed.
Psalms for Lent via Andrea Bridges (a simple devotional practice — reading the Psalms each day during Lent)
Lenten Chaos via Duane Arnold (Lent is a time of spiritual practices, but only God can create in us a new heart)
Among the practices we associate with Lent, fasting usually tops the list. Fasting from food and delicacies can be a form of preparation for Easter. We respond with our body to our soul’s hunger for God and for new spiritual life. More recently, fasting from social media has become popular.
Yet St. John Chrysostom (c. 349-407), Archbishop of Constantinople and early Church Father, bids us be careful about fasting. He recommends the practice wholeheartedly, devoting several sermons to its benefits. But he also has words of caution. He warns against boasting and asks if we have remembered to fast not just from food but also from some of our more pernicious behaviors. “For the honor of fasting consists not in abstinence from food, but in withdrawing from sinful practices,” he said. In Homily XVI (Homilies on the Statues), Chrysostom writes:
It is common for every one to ask in Lent, how many weeks each has fasted; and some may be heard saying they have two, others three, and others that they have fasted the whole of the weeks. But what advantage is it, if we have gone through the fast devoid of works? If another says, “I have fasted the whole of Lent,” you should say, “I had an enemy, but I was reconciled; I had a custom of evil-speaking, but I put a stop to it; I had a custom of swearing, but I have broken through this evil practice.”
In his book, Fasting, Scot McKnight calls this a “full-orbed” view of fasting because it’s a way of life, not merely a limited and temporary practice. Here’s another taste (if you’ll forgive the pun) from St. Chrysostom:
Do not just let your mouth fast, but also the eye and the ear and the feet and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast by being pure from theft and avarice. Let the feet fast by ceasing from running to the unlawful spectacles . . . Let the mouth fast as well from disgraceful speeches and railing.
Chrysostom also mentions that fasting can include serving those in need: “Do you fast? Prove it by your good works . . .If you see a poor man, take pity on him!” The point of a fast is not to endure a temporary privation, but to enter a new way of life. The fast goes on, even when Lent is over and we’re all stuffing our faces again.
I love Chrysostom’s emphasis on serving and on being reconciled with our enemies. He seems to imply that he’s not even going to believe that you’re fasting unless you’re ALSO looking out for your neighbor. Fasting can be not just a path to spiritual growth, but a means of justice as well.
In what ways might you consider fasting this season?
Welcome to Friday Favorites! It really is a joy to us to share the good posts we’ve found each week. There are so many people putting beautiful and hopeful words into the world. We hope the ones featured here will bless you today. So, without further ado, Prasanta Verma and I bring you this week’s faves…
This is a wonderful season in the year and in the life of the Church. We recently rang in the New Year, and on Monday we celebrated the Feast of the Epiphany, commemorating the visit of the Magi to the Christ Child. Epiphany ushers in an entire season that lasts until Ash Wednesday.
For this week’s Friday Favorites, Prasanta Verma and I are including posts about the New Year and the season of Epiphany, as well as some good resources for reading and writing to kick 2020 into high gear.
Wishing each one of you a blessed season!
New Year, Same Past via Cassidy Hall (the new year may not bring sudden joy, but it does bring the miracle of being)