O God, who wonderfully created, and yet more wonderfully restored, the dignity of human nature: Grant that we may share the divine life of him who humbled himself to share our humanity, your Son Jesus Christ; Amen.
Collect of the Incarnation, Book of Common Prayer
It’s hard to be human, very hard indeed to be a grown-up adult with responsibilities and demands and others to look after. It’s hard and, somedays, we may look back fondly when we were small children and didn’t have to worry about a thing; our food was already provided, our decisions made in advance by elders. But you can never really go back or, at least, you can never really unlearn what you’ve already learned, for good or bad, like it or not. As it turns out, then, it’d be even worse if we were forced to go back, forced to become like children once again, to have others make our decisions and usurp our place as adults.
So we press on, striving to do those things which we know to be right and avoid those things which we know to be wrong. That’s why we continue to learn how best to love God and our neighbor and our self and, in addition, not leave those things undone which need to be done. There are a lot more gray areas of life. That’s the case when things aren’t so crystal clear or roadmapped ahead of us. We fail, from time to time, and we also succeed and grow. Life is designed this way. It’s so we might become a better, more wholesome creation. That’s precisely why we’re in the midst of life with all of its complexity and challenge, for it yet has so much potential and joy and beauty, too. That’s what it means to be created in God’s image, no longer a mere child but one with knowledge and potential, creativity and agency. That’s what it means to be fully human, indeed that’s the very way in which we become like God, fully divine.
Likewise, it would be a mistake to read the scriptures that annually inaugurate Lent — the gospel stories about Jesus’ temptation — as if they had little to do with our created nature. For when God determined to change the course of history, God immersed Godself in the fullness of our humanity, taking our createdness upon himself and dealing firsthand with temptation and desire and struggle. God did this not to show us what we are incapable of but, rather, to prove to us who we are, being made in God’s image. God did this not only to save us but to restore in us that created, that original blessing with which we can, and always could, use our human agency.
Salvation is much more the act of restoration than it is of pulling us out of the mire and pit of where we have sunk so low. Salvation in a very real sense is restoring in us that original blessing, that primal gift of what it means to be human, the only way proven through the pages of scripture by which we also might become fully divine, like God.
That’s why we take on these Lenten spiritual disciplines, some of which may have to do with self-denial and penitence; some of which may also, I hope, have to do with restoration and promise, with rekindling in you what it means to be a living member of the body of God.
For this reason, I find such meaning in this poem – the origins and author of which I couldn’t find. Do not fast, then, at the expense of feasting. And make this season an opportunity, once again, to be restored in Christ.
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them
Fast from emphasis on our differences; feast on our oneness
Fast from the darkness around us; feast on the light of Christ
Fast on thoughts of illness; feast on the healing power of God
Fast on words that pollute; feast on words that purify
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude
Fast from withholding anger; feast on sharing our feelings
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism
Fast from worry; feast on trust
Fast from guilt; feast on freedom
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation
Fast from stress; feast on self-care
Fast from hostility; feast on letting go
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness
Fast from selfishness; feast on compassion for others
Fast from discouragement; feast on seeing the good
Fast from apathy; feast on enthusiasm
Fast from suspicion; feast on seeing the good
Fast from idle gossip; feast on spreading good news
Fast from being so busy; feast on quiet silence
Fast from problems that overwhelm us; feast on prayerful trust
Fast from talking; feast on listening
Fast from trying to be in control; feast on letting go.
Excerpts from a sermon preached at St. George’s Episcopal Church, Valley Lee, Maryland on the first Sunday of Lent (2014); click here for the full text of the sermon.