The Blessings of Lent III: An Oasis in the Wilderness

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“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Is. 55:2).

I think I first heard about Lent when I was about eight years-old. I remember hearing some of my Catholic classmates talking about giving up dessert or something else like that before Easter. It struck me as a strange custom back then. Why would someone willingly deny themselves dessert for six weeks?

In our Mennonite Church, we never talked about Lent back then. That may be partly our desire to keep ourselves “pure” of “high church” influences. It could also be that we thought we should try and be “good” all the time, not just before Easter so that the Easter bunny would bring us treats.

I first started to explore fasting for myself during Lent in my early 20s, when I studied Richard Foster’s book Celebration of Discipline in a young adult Sunday School. Foster helped me see various spiritual disciplines in a different light. Over the years I have turned to his book a number of times to think about the value and beauty of various spiritual disciplines.

In particular the chapter on fasting made an impact on me. Foster eloquently describes the beauty of fasting and, at the same time, warns us that fasting may teach us things about ourselves that we would rather not see. I have found that to be true. Some years I have made a 24 hour fast each week part of my Lenten discipline. Other years I have fasted from different things: coffee, chocolate and even dessert. Some years I have added another spiritual discipline to my routine like centring prayer, or a particular devotional book. Other times I could not face the idea of marking Lent in any of these ways. Or perhaps worse, I chose something which was a meaningless gesture.

Regardless, every year a central metaphor for me in Lent has been “journey”. I focus on the journey through the wilderness to the foot of the cross, and ultimately to the resurrection. The disciplines I commit to help me notice the steps on the journey. Journey – perhaps pilgrimage—is a metaphor I often turn to as a way to understand my life as a whole. The journey is not always easy, or exciting, or even meaningful, but if I look, there is always some awareness of movement.

Arugot River in Gedi oasisEin Gedi Oasis, Israel. Photo by Maglanist via Wikimedia Commons.One thing Lent has taught me about “journey” is that there are oases along the way. I have learned that an oasis is only something that exists in a desert; it is relative bounty in a place of austerity. Therein lies its beauty. The third Sunday of Lent is one such place.

This year we find it in the Isaiah passage for this week. In our Lenten journey we are being addressed and called in the midst of an austere time to indulge. “Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labour for that which does not satisfy? Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in rich food.” (Is. 55:2).

This is not a call to gorge ourselves at the watering hole! It is a call to look for what is good and life sustaining in the midst of starkness. In Lent we learn that we can only do that if we let go of that which does not bring life.The oases I have discovered over the years, as I have travelled through the wilderness of Lent, can be summed up in two words: humility and simplicity. As we continue our journey through Lent this year, I pray that we will each find an oasis from which to draw that living water that gives us strength and joy to “seek the LORD while he may be found” (Is. 55:6).

Brian Dyck is a friend of Holy Cross Priory and a frequent visitor. He lives in Winnipeg, and is National Migration & Resettlement Program Coordinator for the Mennonite Central Committee Canada.

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