March 7. Day 16 of Lent. A good time to look back to Day 1, Ash Wednesday, to reflect on spiritual discipline. (I could wait ‘til March 12, Lent’s Day 20 and halfway point, but I’ve always been in a hurry!)
Believing that bloggers (preachers, too!) write first to themselves, in fairness, not assuming anything that follows applies to anyone else, I “speak” in the first person.
Lent invites me to practice spiritual discipline (of course, not only in Lent), so to continue my pilgrimage from who I am to the one God wills I become. As a follower of Jesus, I revisit his teaching on alms-giving, prayer, and fasting, which always intrigues me mainly because Jesus isn’t nagging me to start doing them. Saying “whenever”, not “if”, he assumes I already do, then warns me of the inherent danger of doing the right thing for the wrong reason. To give, pray, fast to demonstrate my generosity, my spirituality, my self-control. When I do this, Jesus calls me a hypocrite (from the Greek, hupocritēs, originally an actor wearing a mask on stage, thus), one whose true face is hidden.
I say “when”, not “if” I do this, for even at my best, for example, my charity comes with conditions. When I give I always get something, even if it’s only benign self-satisfaction. As my charity, however generous it appears, is not pure, I don’t show my true face to others or to myself.
And here’s more danger. Spiritual discipline can become a tool of my self-delusion. Maybe it would be better, best not to try at all! But then I’d miss the reward…
Jesus, regarding those who practice spiritual discipline to win public praise, says, “Truly I tell you, they have received their reward.” The Greek word translated reward is an ancient marketplace term meaning one receives only that for which one pays. If I seek and gain the applause of others, that’s all I’ll get, nothing more, nothing less.
However, spiritual discipline offers greater rewards. Knowing myself as I truly am in relation to who I long to become. In knowing myself, my humanness, which is both unique to my individual self and shared with all, I have a glimpse of others. In glimpsing others, I get a peek into the mind and heart of the One who created all to be in relationship.
And relationship, I think, is the point. Jesus, spiritual discipline, Lent remind me that I’m related to everyone, thus dependent. I don’t stand alone. This state of related dependence is my truest self. If, when I act otherwise, I’m a hypocrite, an actor.
Believing this to be true reforms and reinvigorates my practice of spiritual discipline…
I give alms, yes, aware of the needs of others, of the world, but also as an outward expression and constant reminder that I need the help of others, always.
I pray less to demand of God what I desire (even less to counteract the prayers of folk who think differently than I!) and more as an act of confession (from the Greek homologeo, “to say the same thing”). Speaking with my lips the truth of my heart. Daring to be honest about my dreams and fears, wants and needs, loves and hatreds. Saying everything in the hope, the belief that God accepts me, in the words of one of my favorite hymns, “just as I am.”
I fast less for self-improvement (though, yes, I can afford to lose a few, several pounds!) and more as an act of emancipation. Freeing myself of any notion of my self-sufficiency. Rediscovering my deepest hunger to be at-one, at peace with myself, others, God, and the whole creation.
March 7. Day 16 of Lent. 24 more days of giving, praying, and fasting ‘til Easter, and then the rest of my life of giving, praying, and fasting.