Feast or Fast
Ash Wednesday and Valentines day fall on this same day this year. To be honest I have never shown much interest in either calendar events but more recently I have been so touched by the Church traditions of Advent, Epiphany and Lent inter-mingled with the Biblical feasts that I love, learning to see what they offer us in our life journey. There are so many amazing tools that people can engage with the seasons of the church calendar and I love it. So, all that being said I think that it is really fun that these two particular markers have aligned as I think there is something hidden in the collision.
Ash Wednesday is the day of fasting marking the first day of lent for Western Christianity. Valentines Day has become many things over the centuries but is also a day of feasting for the Anglican and Lutheran church, aside from the marker of noted love. I’d say that makes for an interesting predicament. Do we fast or do we feast?
Valentine is derived from the word, valen which is Latin for “worthy, strong, powerful”. Saint Valentine ministered to Christians who were being persecuted during Roman rule. He performed marriage ceremonies for soldiers who had been forbidden to marry and as a consequence to his actions was imprisoned. Early Christian martyrs were named Valentine and these Valentines came to be honored on February 14th. Legend has it that Saint Valentine restored the sight to the blind daughter of his judge and as a farewell, as he too was martyred, left a note simply saying, “Your Valentine”. Legend or not the whole thing seems quite profound.
Ash Wednesday derived its name from the ashes created from the burning of the palm leaves that were used the last Palm Sunday in the Christian calendar. A mark of the cross is made on the forehead and the words, “Repent and believe in the gospel” or “Remember you are dust, and to dust you shall return” are spoken as the mark is made. I find it interesting that the ashes of palm leaves make the sign of the cross, I know it marks the cyclical nature of remembrance and yet something hits me hard about that which celebrated the arrival of Jesus into the City of Peace (Jerusalem) now being marked as a sign of that which held his death. Maybe thats the whole point though, the frailty of humanity, the violence of injustice and the humbling process of remembering that we are the dust from beneath our dirty feet.
The fact that lent begins on this day and was designed to be a mirroring of the 40 days that Jesus spent in the wilderness just reiterates our engagement with the circle rather than the linear line of tradition. Lent is a time of fasting, silence and encounter. This is another beginning in the cycle. In biblical hebrew the word for wilderness is Midbar, the place of hearing, the space of God’s voice. Can you imagine wilderness as a place of hearing? As a place where slowly all the voices start to silence and that silence itself starts to speak to the inner parts of who we are? It blows my mind that Jesus remembered and acted upon the need for a wilderness experience.
SO, DO WE FAST OR FEAST?
The only answer that I have is yes, but I am not sure what that really means. I feel like the yes is more the answer to what I find myself doing on days when the instruction is “fast”, I actually end up feasting and when the instruction or guidance is to “feast” I actually fast. Does that happen to you, or am I the only one? Maybe my conclusion is to see what the real need is, and being between the answers is the kind of limbo that I am experiencing in my life right now. I think I am only scratching the surface of a hunger in my life, a hunger that has left me filling in the gaps hastily and without form because I have wanted to control it all for the sake of a false sense of security.
This day I need the ashes of remembrance on my head and the one who is prepared to contend for me when the powers that only seek to destroy have a hold on my being. I need that tender mark of a cross and the one whose name means worthy, strong and powerful spoken in my ear. That in the humbling presence of ashes, that I can know the love letter in a new way from our creator God and that whisper of His closeness indeed could lead to creating something new within me.
May I not feast on my own strength, worthiness or power but remember that though I am crowned in royalty the love that we are all offered is not dependent at all on what we can do. May I rather lean into the holiness of ashes and remember that this year there will be a triumphant entry with palm leaves and song and this season is full of beauty present and beauty unfolding all in the name who is LOVE.
I have written a list with the titles Fast and Feast on each side. I am writing the things that I can delight in and those things that will bring freedoms and energy because of self-control, learning to be sober of spirit and how to nourish my whole being. Let us see how this journey unfolds.