"It is the emptiness of the cup which makes it useful."
I imagine that thousands of folks have an ambivalent connection to Lent. It is, for starters, counter-cultural and counter-societal. All this discussion of what we should give up or take away from our daily lives, what we are willing to subtract from the comfort zones we've created (and that we often need), can seem meaningless or counterproductive in the stressful world we occupy.
Then there is the question of fasting, of subtracting something (something we like very much, as the instructions usually go) from the cornucopia of foodstuffs that surround us in some countries... and subtracting substance in other parts of the world where there is still not enough to eat. In some parts of the world, fasting seems impossible in the face of a poisonous plenty, and in others, impossible due to punishing scarcity.
|Tree Bent by Snow, Ysabel de la Rosa|
Lent and Resentment
|Winter Sculpting, Ysabel de la Rosa|
Seeing AnewThe practices of Lent are not unique to Christianity. Fasting has been part of sacred traditions for thousands of years. Although I am no comparative religion expert, I cannot think of a religious tradition that does not include fasting or recognize it as a path to positive change in either consciousness or in nearness to the divine. Why? Because fasting creates emptiness, a literal, visceral emptiness; a space, an awareness of space, extra room: not to stay empty, but to be filled with greater, more "substantive" presence.
Last week I was reminded of just how many years I've walked this earth when I told a young colleague that I could remember using a cartridge fax , loading the paper into the machine and watching it spin while the print was somehow "transmitted" to a press bureau in Washington, D.C. He laughed and said, "That was before I was born." He has no memory of a three-page fax taking 15 minutes to arrive at its destination. In fact, he has probably had little reason to ever use a fax, with email, Webinars, text messaging and the like now being our communications media. I have a sense that these things are fast, because I remember when they were not. My colleague will not see these things as fast, but simply as normal.
To be fast has emerged as one of our supreme cultural and societal values, on an international scale. We are convinced that speed does not kill; it rewards. We strive to make fast normal. A teacher of mine told me that, in Norwegian, the words "haste" and "violence" share the same root. And I find it fascinating that the word "fast" holds so many definitions inside. In fact, this one word holds its antithesis within its set of definitions.
To be fast is to risk being unaware, to part from the present moment, not looking at what is here, but instead at what is there...that place to which we have not yet gone; in fact, where we do not yet exist. To be fast is, indeed, to haste and to risk violence. I lost count of the car-accident fatalities reported on last night's statewide newscast, but speed was a factor in nearly all of them, as was the distraction caused by speed.
|Line and Shadow, Ysabel de la Rosa|
One word: two choices. I can live fast, or I can live fasting. I cannot live both ways at the same time. In fact, Lent is a good time to ask ourselves if the fast life can ever truly be called living. The sculptor Constantin Brancusi once told a friend: "Speed takes us closer to only one thing--the end."
Some good reads for forays into the fasting life:
The Thinking Life
In Praise of Slowness