We begin the 40 day journey called Lent. At our Ash Wednesday services I again shared the story and commentary around the Prayer of Ephrem the Syrian, a 4th century teacher whose prayer is used constantly in the Eastern church especially during the week leading to Easter. I have learned and prayed and been helped by this prayer as part of my own spiritual life for many years now. (Go to this previous post for the text and commentary.)
Fasting, along with prayer and compassionate giving, is a spiritual discipline Jesus expected his followers to continue (Matthew 6:1-18). The pattern of fasting in much of the church has been to extend a rhythm of Wednesday and Friday (abstaining from meat, dairy, oil, and wine) to virtually the whole 40 day period. Joan Chittister writing on The Liturgical Year, says this about fasting in relation to the Seven Deadly Sins. (our current teaching series)
…consciousness of life beyond the material come(s) more easily when the material is not allowed to smother us. Having conquered our impulses for the immediate, having tamed our desires for the physical, perhaps we will be able to bring ourselves to rise above the greed that consumes us. Maybe we will be able to control the anger that is a veil between us and the face of God. Perhaps we will have reason now to forswear the pride that is a barrier to growth. Possibly we will learn to forswear the lust that denies us the freeing grace of simplicity. Maybe we will even find the energy to fight the sloth that deters us from making spiritual progress, the gluttony that ties us to our bellies, and the envy that makes it impossible for us to be joyful givers of the gifts we have been given.
Lent is the period in which, learning to abstain from adoring at the shrine of the self, we come to see beyond the divinity we have made of ourselves to the divine will for all the world. (p. 113)