Tuesday, February 08, 2005

Lean Words on Fat Tuesday

The beginning of Lent is an emotionally powerful time for me. Like many of you, I take the forty days between Ash Wednesday and Easter very seriously and usually commit myself to some kind of fast.

The last few days, I have been trying to figure out what to fast from this Lent. Chocolate is a possibility, because Cameroonian chocolate is exquisite! I considered coffee, because I drink it so regularly. Or maybe this year, I can simply fast from computer games – yes, I’m hooked on Spider Solitaire. But I hadn’t decided on anything yet …

And then, this morning, I sat down and read the prescribed Scripture for the day, and was astounded to read Isaiah 58 in the Contemporary English Version:

“Do you think the Lord wants you to give up eating and to act as humble as a
bent-over bush? Or to dress in sackcloth and sit in ashes?

Is this really what he wants on a day of worship? I’ll tell you what it really means to worship the Lord.

Remove the chains of prisoners who are chained unjustly.

Free those who are abused!

Share your food with everyone who is hungry;

share your home with the poor and homeless.

Give clothes to those in need; don’t turn away your relatives.

Then your light will shine like the dawning sun, and you will quickly
be healed.”

Yikes! I can’t believe how these words burn everytime I read them. What an indictment, what a call to repentance …

As much as I hate to hear it, God seems to be saying that he’s not that interested in my rituals and empty acts of devotion. He’d much rather I be busy performing acts of liberation, like removing the chains of prisoners (Abu Gharib, anyone?), setting free people who are abused, feeding the hungry, and giving things away. How is that possible? How can this be the “true meaning of worship”?

Doesn’t God like it when we offer sincere prayers and sing songs of praise and worship? Doesn’t God like it when we practice good, sound spiritual disciplines like fasting and meditation? Doesn’t God covet our prayers and our quiet, reflective liturgy?

Apparently not as much as we thought.

Maybe this year, God wants us to get busy. These forty days of Lent might be a call to action.