Vol 3, Num 5 :: 2004.02.27 — 2004.03.11
This side of death, I am persuaded that the Taoist concept of Yin and Yang is accurately and powerfully descriptive of reality. Yin and Yang are the two intertwined aspects of the creative energy of the universe. Their interplay shapes reality as we experience it. The familiar Yin-Yang symbol—a circle divided in two by a curved line, one side dark, one light, each with a dot of the other’s color in it—makes clear that all paired opposites exist in relationship with each other. Thus, the female aspect is paired with the male, and each has a bit of the other within that they might understand and related to one another. So it is with light and dark, sickness and health, form and space, relaxation and tension, introvert and extrovert, child and parent, and a thousand other pairings that shape reality.
And so it is with feasting and fasting. One cannot be experienced in fullness nor understood without the other. Yet many of us try to move from feast to feast to feast, from Thanksgiving to Christmas to New Year’s to Super Bowl Sunday to Valentine’s Day, without intentional “non-feasting” in between. And so, our celebrations too often exhaust us as we try to top its predecessor without embracing is paired opposite.
Lent offers the Christian community a time of fasting, the gift that will make the Festival (a word derived from “feast”) of the Resurrection come clear, bright and glorious. Without the Yin of fasting, the Yang of feasting is diminished. Fasting is traditionally understood as the discipline of spiritual clarification, undertaken that we might behold the Divine as we are freed of that which claims us all too regularly and deeply.
The Lenten fast can take myriad forms: from certain foods certainly (soda, sugar, fast food, for example). Not a few of us would benefit spiritually from fasting from television (in truth, I’ve been wondering if the prevalence of depression in our culture is not somehow linked to watching television), or from shopping as recreation rather than necessity. We might also fast from speaking unnecessarily, to quiet ourselves and our world that we might hear more deeply. We might fast from use of the car as much as possible in order to link spirit and body once again as we walk more. The choices are many and discernment of which is most needed is done in prayer.
The Sundays of Lent are sometimes understood as “little Easters” when the fast is relaxed a bit. These lesser feast days might be the occasion for gathering with family and friends for genuine Sabbath: worship, good food, good conversation, good music, games and laughter. The yin of fasting needs the yang of feasting if life is to have the wholeness to which we are called: “You must be whole as your heavenly Father is whole” (Mt. 5.48). In truth, it is the relaxing of the fast that preserves it as a means of grace, lest it deteriorate into yet another self-justifying work.
In the early church, Lent was the season of preparation for baptism on Easter. Embracing the Yin and Yang of fasting and feasting will lead us to rise with Christ into to new life as well.
God, help us during this season of Lent to:
Fast from judging others; feast on the Christ dwelling in them.
Fast from focusing on differences; feast on the unity of all life.
Fast from apparent darkness; feast on the reality of light.
Fast from words that pollute; feast on phrases that purify.
Fast from discontent; feast on gratitude.
Fast from anger; feast on patience.
Fast from pessimism; feast on optimism.
Fast from worry; feast on trust.
Fast from complaining; feast on appreciation.
Fast from negatives; feast on affirmatives.
Fast from unrelenting pressures; feast on unceasing prayer.
Fast from hostility; feast on nonviolence.
Fast from bitterness; feast on forgiveness.
Fast from self-concern; feast on compassion for others.
Fast from personal anxiety; feast on eternal truth.
Fast from discouragement; feast on hope.
Fast from facts that depress; feast on truths that uplift.
Fast from lethargy; feast on enthusiasm.
Fast from suspicion; feast on truth.
Fast from thoughts that weaken; feast on promises that inspire.
Fast from idle gossip; feast on purposeful silence.
(“A Lenten Prayer,” from The Essential Lenten Handbook. Ligouri, MO: Ligouri Publications.)