On Lent, and Other Forms of Suicide

Here's a link to a good article on the recovery of Lenten fasting. An excellent read, written by a very astute scholar-friend. (Julie was our Junior Dean at the Vines in Oxford, and she introduced me to Look Around You. Hi Julie!)

Some brief snippets that I'd like to comment on:

Catholics and liturgical Protestants mark the beginning of this season by smearing ashes across their foreheads, reminding themselves that they are human, dust of the earth, ashes to ashes. The ashes symbolize that our bodies – our selves – are not ours at all but God’s. It’s slightly ironic that so many Christians use Ash Wednesday as a jump-start to a grand display of their self-control, self-betterment, beautification, and “holy” ability to have good habits.

Yes and Amen! I have nothing against people who use Lent to make life better, but that's something you should be doing the other 325 days of the year, too!

He is not necessarily a medieval monk. He is, perhaps, your third-grade Sunday-school teacher, though I’m not sure that the ascetic dualist would work well with third-graders and body humor.

It seems to me that, while they certainly wouldn't all get along with children, monks are better at dealing with body-humor than most. Monks, you see, often have a much better grip on reality than we give them credit for. Want to know the real meaning of charity and fellowship? Try sleeping in an 8*4 cell next to a guy who snores, and then working/praying/eating with him, all voluntarily and with the Joy of the Lord. St. Francis was a dualist through and through, but he had a healthy sense of humour about his own body. Francis referred to his corporeal self as "Brother Ass," not simply to disparage it, but to put it into its place. The body is a helpful thing, but it is as stubborn as any beast I know of.
(The sexuality bit is tricky, I'll leave that for another time...)

Fasting has been described by some religious thinkers as choosing a kind of death, and this is helpful to keep in mind to combat those who would like to use fasting as choosing a kind of self-improvement. Yes, fasting is choosing death: choosing the temporary death of some very good aspects of our lives in order to meditate on the source of life: God Himself.

I agree wholeheartedly on this point, and I would be overjoyed if more people would contemplate the goodness of this kind of death; I'm not sure that this would be a well-received platform in "mainline" churches, though.

The strangest thing about the ascetic way of thinking (and you'll note that I never use ascetic in the pejorative sense) is that as soon as it's made normative, as soon as we try to turn it into a plan for building a kingdom on Earth, it loses all meaning. Asceticism is specifically a negative experience; fasting is an act of giving up in order to look forward to something else. Christ fasted for the kingdom, not with the kingdom. This is, of course, where I must part ways with those who see the kingdom at hand. I don't see the kingdom around me, so I will fast and wait for it to come. I don't see or feel the glory of a kingdom-oriented body, so I will keep mine in check and anticipate the resurrection. (Which is not to say that we can turn up our noses at grace and beauty and wonder; the last thing I'd want is to become a dwarf in a stable missing out on the beginning of the new Narnia...)

With that, I'll give Julie the last word. (If you can call an out-of context quote "giving" someone the last word.)
Liturgically, Lent is the question to which Easter is the answer.

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