There are two ways to get to the top of an oak tree. You can climb it, or you can sit on an acorn! Both are perfectly viable ways, although one takes the patience of Job. There are also two ways to move through the Lenten Season: fasting and feasting. Both are legitimate expressions of spiritual growth. As a matter of fact, from a spiritual perspective, both are necessary.
Ash Wednesday is traditionally the first day of Lent. And traditionally during Lent, we are asked to give up things like chocolate, ice cream, soft drinks, high fat foods, doughnuts, potato chips, and so on. The phrase “deny yourself” is equated with “deprive yourself of pleasure.” And the focus is generally giving up certain types of foods even some luxuries like eating out in restaurants, reducing TV time, turning off house lights and using candles, and so on, throughout the Lenten season.
A Traditional Perspective
The traditional religious objective seeks to deprive us of pleasures and bring some sort of voluntary suffering into our lives in order to make them better. And since it comes just before Jesus’ violent death, it uses His suffering and crucifixion to justify our own suffering and penance.
Ash Wednesday, in particular, is a practice which uses the symbolism of putting ashes on our foreheads as a reminder of our unworthiness, sinfulness, and need for redemption. In Old Testament times, putting ashes on the foreheads, fasting, and wearing sackcloth were signs of true repentance.
The prophet Jeremiah called Israel to “wallow in ashes” (Jer. 6:26) and Abraham spoke of being unworthy because he was nothing but “dust and ashes” (Gen. 2:7). In 1099, Pope Urban II is responsible for calling the first day of Lent Ash Wednesday. He imposed the ritual only for those who committed grave sins. They were asked to do public penance until they were reconciled through confessions and penitence to the church.
The practice was initiated to quarantine ‘sinners’ from the rest of the community. The word ‘quarantine’ has the same root word as ‘forty.’ And, thus, we have the forty days of Lent. What we have just described is the traditional Christian view of the Lenten season. A view that focuses on sinfulness, sorrow, sacrifice, unworthiness, and repentance.
A Spiritual Perspective
Here is a spiritual perspective of Lent, which differs in tone and direction. In his classic book, Keep a True Lent, Charles Fillmore says:
It is commonly believed that the Lenten period has to do with the events of the forty days preceding the Resurrection of Christ. This is an erroneous idea. Lent is a church institution, and there is no authorization for it anywhere in the New Testament. The idea, however, has a sound spiritual basis. Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Himself set precedents for it. Each observed a forty-day period of prayer and fasting as a preparation for spiritual work.
Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mt. Sinai after he fasted. Elijah talked with God after his forty day fast. Jesus began His great spiritual ministry after He fasted for forty days in the wilderness. In each of these cases the number 40 had nothing to do with the forty days of Lent. Metaphysically, the number 40 stands for completeness or a completed preparation for some important spiritual work.
From a spiritual perspective, Lent stands for a voluntary retreat from the world to prepare for our resurrection from false beliefs, error thinking, and the denial of our innate divinity.
Spiritually speaking, there is only one kind of fasting: abstaining from error thoughts, choices, and actions that dampen the awareness of our oneness with Spirit. The dieting we advocate during Lent is dieting from doubts, fasting from fear, abstaining from believing we are unworthy, and eliminating the thinking that we are sinful by nature.
And, yes, if there are foods that are harmful to your physical body you may want to fast from them as well – not just during Lent, but as a lifestyle decision. The important thing to remember is that Lent is not a fad. It is a lifelong spiritual discipline.
We encourage you to fast from the belief that you are here just to learn lessons. You have lessons, and sometimes they are harsh lessons, but your lessons are the consequences of your error thoughts and actions. They are effects, not causes. You are here to become one with and fulfill your Christ Nature – just like Jesus did when He became one with His Christ Nature. Feast on your oneness with Spirit.
Fast from the belief that there are incurable illnesses. You have the pattern of perfection within you. It is called the Christ pattern or ‘I Am’ consciousness. It is your Core Nature, the truth of who you are. Because you are whole at the level of Spirit, feast on becoming whole on the human level by connecting with your Core Nature.
Fast from the belief that life has to be filled with suffering. Although the belief that we are meant to suffer is a belief some people wear like a badge of honor, it is not one of the teachings of the Christ as Jesus. Jesus did not say in John 10:10 – “I came that you might have suffering and have it more abundantly.” He said – “I came that you might have LIFE and have it more abundantly.” So feast on living life more fully.
The Christ as Jesus says in Matthew11:28-30, “Come to me all of you that are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you (Come into the same understanding as I) and learn from me; and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy (For the truth has set me free) and my burden is light.”
You’ve probably heard of the the well-known phrase “Jesus suffered under Pontius Pilate.” Spiritually speaking, Pilate stands for muddy water, and one of the well-known symbols of Christ is a fish. So fish suffering under muddy water is an apt metaphor.
From a spiritual perspective Pontius Pilate stands for our emotionally-charged sense appetites and carnal will. Jesus represents the recognition of our Christ potential. Our Christ potential, our innate wholeness, suffers (is neglected) because we allow our over-consumptive material appetites to rule.
Separating ourselves from our Christ Nature is what causes all of our suffering. Whenever we allow our ego (the Pontius Pilate in us)
to usurp our spiritual growth, we suffer.
From a spiritual perspective Lent goes well beyond Easter. Lent is a spiritual “retreat forward,” a time of preparation, cleansing, and completion as we fast from error thoughts and feast on our relationship with the Christ within.
True Lent is a lifetime of fasting from anything and everything that we allow to separate us from our Christ Nature. When you think about it, a Lent-Free Life is a life of suffering. So make Lent a life-long practice: Fast from fear and doubt. Fast from worry and thinking you don’t measure up.
You are put here to enjoy life. Use this Lenten season to discover the Kingdom of Heaven, the spiritual muscle, the right-ness, the depth of compassion, the profound bandwidth of loving kindness that are yours by right of consciousness.
You can do it because it’s in your spiritual DNA.