Today is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent; the beginning of the Easter season. Yesterday was Fat Tuesday, and I have watched with my usual dose of irony the Mardi Gras celebrations that have been ongoing all around us. And that has gotten me to thinking....
Traditionally, Lent has become a time of abstinence. In fact, the fasting that is one of the primary observances of Lent actually pre-dates the practice of Lent itself - the early church fasted intensely for two days prior to Easter; this practice grew to the 40 day “modified fast” we know as Lent. And the idea behind the original practice has a meaning and depth that has, for many, been lost in the carrying on of the tradition.
You see, Lent is a time of cleansing, of purification, and preparation for baptism: either the original baptism of the believer, or a renewal of faith. And the giving up of the “pleasures of the flesh” are not meant to be the sole, or even primary point of Lent. The actual hope for Lent is in a lasting transformation of the Spirit, not just a 40 day cessation in the intake of candy, meat, alcohol, tobacco, or the many vices observers of Lent choose to forego. Far more powerful is the letting go of those things in consciousness which no longer serve, and not picking them back up after Easter. As Charles Fillmore writes in “Keeping a True Lent”, “I am letting go of old mortal beliefs and the Divine within is flaming higher and higher. Its pure white light is infusing all my surroundings with a delightful spirit of wisdom, dignity, and peace. I realize more and more the law of righteous thinking that is bringing me into a consciousness of my perfect dominion.”
And, as is so often the misconception in Unity, we might be satisfied (perhaps even a little smugly so) to practice Lent in our own consciousness - to give up those thoughts, feelings, and beliefs that no longer serve. That is certainly a start. But the traditional scripture reading for the Friday which follows Ash Wednesday calls us higher - to fast not only as individuals, but as a society. In chapter 56 of the prophecy of Isaiah, it is written, “This, rather, is the fasting that I wish: releasing those bound unjustly, untying the thongs of the yoke; setting free the oppressed, breaking every yoke; sharing your bread with the hungry, sheltering the oppressed and the homeless; clothing the naked when you see them, and not turning your back on your own.” It is a fasting from the status quo way of being, a social order in which fear, greed, and power are the shadows which deny the sunlight of the Spirit to all.
And so, this Ash Wednesday, rather than being anointed with ashes on the forehead, I am going to ask you to consider two fasts: one inner; one outer. The inner fast will be from those things held in the privacy of your own consciousness which no longer serve you, if indeed they ever did. And the second, perhaps more difficult, will be to find those ways of fasting as a member of your family or church, or as a citizen of your city, state, or nation, or as a human being on planet Earth that will break the cycles of misuse, poverty, oppression, violence, selfishness, and unforgiveness which cling like dust to the robes of the body of the Christ: our collective Divinity. This annual cycle of over-indulging followed by a brief time of abstinence will never change us at depth, either as individuals or as a society. But if we commit to releasing our internal belief structures and external social structures which are based on the sense consciousness, and “break down mortal thought and ascend into a spiritual realm, the kingdom of the heavens”, as Charles Fillmore explains, we can live in the “Carnival” ("carne vale" - "farewell to flesh") state of mind, cleansed for what Fillmore calls the “second baptism”, the inpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Laissez le bon temps rouler!