Fasting or Feasting?

Tomorrow Valentine's Day 2018 will fall on the same day as Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent in the traditional Christian calendar. Lent is both an inward, quiet time to reflect on and atone for past mistakes, as well as a time for intentional acts of generosity: helping, donating, forgiving and compassion.

When I was growing up, we were encouraged to “give up” something we enjoyed for the forty-day period to remind us of, and to give us some appreciation for the suffering and death of Jesus. We were to eat less food, to fast from sweets, to eat simply, and to abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. This self-denial was meant to be character-building and to make us aware of habits and cravings.

When I was serving as Senior Minister at our Center in Huntington Beach, CA (and in my subsequent churches) I did a series of talks during the Lenten period to shift our attention from the tradition of fasting from things–food, drink, behaviors, habits, and instead to focus on fasting from negative behaviors and thinking.

I also suggested focuses that were life-giving, so I added feasting on the opposites of these. For example: Fasting from Anxiety and Feasting on Awareness, and Fasting from Cynicism and Feasting on Courage.

This is one juxtaposition I'm thinking about today.

Here's another: as a New Thought minister, I'm well-versed in the awareness that what we resist persists, and what we put our attention on increases.

At the same time, I value something Byron Katie said once in response to a question about whether taking action to stop a killer was interfering in God's business. She said that it was a loving thing to stop someone like that, putting it something like this: “If I were killing others, I can imagine what horrible pain I would be in. I would be in constant conflict with who I truly am. I would want someone to stop me from continuing to hurt others and myself in that way.”

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Byron Katie

I've always hoped that if I'd lived in Europe as an adult during the Third Reich,  I would've had the courage to speak up or risk taking action to help save lives.

Today, I think I'd be betraying my own values and would feel complicit with what demeans them if I remained silent while doing my inner work. I believe that we are One, that all human lives have equal value, that no creature deserves to suffer, and that boundaries and consequences are necessary because we human beings can talk ourselves into all sorts of harmful shortcuts that benefit us and harm others.

I realize that some of my colleagues in ministry are doing great work primarily in consciousness, focusing on the good, and refraining from passing on news-related facts and opinions, expressing nothing but support for what is working. But I can't stop there–it just isn't enough for me. I know some disagree with me. Am I wrong? I don't know; I can only act from the light given to me.

For me to stand in support of what I believe in, I feel that I must disseminate factual information widely to help us be well-informed about what has happened and is happening. This is risky, and is a double-edged sword, for sure. I can get lost in worry or anger. I can feel discouraged or outraged. It could reasonably be assumed that I'm opposing something, rather than supporting something, making me part of the problem.

I remember Ram Dass saying that he had put a picture of Caspar Weinberger on his puja table (altar). Every day he prayed there to open his heart to President Reagan's Secretary of Defense, even though he disagreed with everything Weinberger was doing, did not think him a wise man, and said so publicly.

I am striving, imperfectly, to keep my heart open to the human beings whose words and actions I find so painful, to return my mind again and again to the vision of a world that works for everyone, and still to speak up.

Must I choose Lent or Valentine's Day? Discipline or Love? Inner Work or Speaking Up?

I'll personalize what Senator Joe Kennedy III  said in his response to the State of the Union address about being asked to make a false choice between two important, good things, “I choose both.”

I don't know what the right choice is for you. I can only pray I'm making the right choices for me. Worth thinking about, though. Happy Valentine's Day!