We Fast to Feast 🍋
Lent is only Lent because of Easter...
It’s funny, writing a book ages ago and then talking about it months later as though it’s all still fresh in your mind.
I wrote Bitter & Sweet, my latest book on Lent, during Advent 2020, and I basically trusted God to do the talking since I couldn’t really wrap my head around the whole season while we ourselves were both in the thick of Advent and celebrating the arrival of its sister book, Shadow & Light, to the rest of the world. I kept my head down and my fingers flying, deep-dived into some Aquinas and Chesterton and Augustine, sprinkled in some Tolkien and Lewis for good measure, and crossed my fingers with the hope that something was ultimately coherent.
I’m not kidding when I say I feel like I’m reading Bitter & Sweet for the first time. This morning I read my own words of the introduction out loud to my kids, swearing up and down to them that I wasn’t turning into a Gilderoy Lockhart. It’s been a bit of a relief to read that I still agree with everything I’ve written. Good thing, since it’s barely seen the light of 2022 and Lent has yet to begin.
There’s a question that occasionally repeats itself in all these interviews I’ve been doing. It’s a benign question, one the asker means in all good faith and shared humanity, but it makes me feel a little panicky because not only do I not have a rote answer to the question, I think I’ve given a different answer just about every time I’ve been asked it:
So, what are you fasting from for Lent this year?
I still don’t know. I’ve joked to Kyle more than a few times that this year I want to fast from Lent, since I already feel like I’ve walked through it, I’ve talked about it so much. At a minimum, I want to fast from talking about Lent to other people. I’m ready to just live it, to walk alongside you, my brothers and sisters, in the communal season of penitence and preparation. I want to participate in Lent’s invitation. I want to do the action part. Less talking, more doing.
But I still don’t know what I’m fasting from. And I very well may not until Ash Wednesday next week.
I’m grateful that my past self added this chart to Bitter & Sweet for my present self, because the medieval idea of seven cardinal vices — and their corresponding virtues — are the framework for the daily Lenten readings. I’ve been mulling over what it means to deal with pride or gluttony, and that our fasts are meant to let go of stuff so we make more room for the virtues, the humility and temperance. But I’d forgotten about their legalistic cousins, the pendulum swing when we forget grace and make Lent about being a better person or seeing if we can do hard stuff on our own willpower.
Of course I want to be more generous, loving, diligent, chaste. But in my desire for those good things, am I veering over into wastefulness, timidity, workaholism, and prudishness?
Um. Gulp. Kinda.
In the name of loving others, am I not speaking up or saying the things I’m meant to say out of fearful timidity?
In the name of diligence, am I finding too much value in my focus on work (of all sorts)?
The practice of fasting from a less-than-good thing is solely for the purpose of making room for something better. We pause the enjoyment of an appetite or two so that we feast on things that last longer and bring more pleasure. Legalistic self-righteousness tastes just as awful as vice. It’s not where I want to live.
As I mull over my Lenten fast this next week, I’m reminding myself of the simple truth that all fasts in the liturgical calendar are followed by feasts; we don’t fast as an end in itself. We fast to prepare ourselves for something better, and that something better, in this particular season, is Eastertide. We remember that all our stupid vices and eye-roll-worthy legalism don’t best us because Christ conquered death and we now have the grace to make it through life, day after day after day. We don’t have to prove ourselves. We get to be free.
Fasting makes us freer to be ourselves, the true selves we’re meant to be: people full of humility, temperance, chastity, love, meekness, and diligence. Will we screw up? Absolutely. But that’s okay, because it won’t kill us if we let Jesus do the work.
Practically speaking, I’ve been brainstorming various fasts using the vices as a scaffolding for my ideas. So far, I’ve come up with:
Pride: the bulk of my wardrobe (aka, wearing the same 12 or so things)
Gluttony: no snacks or desserts (aka, only my two daily meals)
Sloth: no sitting while I write (aka, stand at my standing desk and walk during my breaks)
But I’m still not sure. I’ve got a few more ideas, so we’ll see… Ultimately, we fast to feast, so whatever I fast from, it’s only so that I’m well-prepared to feast. And since following Lent we celebrate the loss of death’s sting over a 50-day feast called Eastertide, I’d say it’s worth the work of a temporary abstinence.
Have you given any thought to Lent yet? If so, know what you’re choosing to fast from? I’d love to hear.
Oremus pro invicem,
p.s. NOTE: The date has been changed due to inclement weather this week! ❄️ // In the Central Texas area? Come to Fabled in Waco
this Thursday, February 24 next Thursday, March 3 at 7:00 pm! My good friend Haley Stewart and I will be chatting about Lent, the liturgical calendar, and whatever else is on our minds. It’ll be casual and chill and hosted at my favorite indie bookshop. I’d love to meet you!