I was sitting right next to it! And then it went off! And I nearly jumped out of my skin. It was an alarm that let you know when someone was “breaking into the house.” I didn’t realize I was that close when they were going to test it and it scared me to death. But I guess that’s what an alarm is supposed to do: get your attention.
Nowadays, though, most alarms are just ignored. When I was a police officer, our department had to institute a fine system for businesses when their alarms went off and we responded to a “false alarm.” It was happening so often at some businesses that we simply began to ignore the alarms. That’s not very helpful.
What is true with alarms is also true in our lives when there doesn’t seem to be an effective way to shock someone’s life out of a dangerous pattern. We have multiple warnings on this or that package, all meant to warn us of health problems. We have good-intentioned relatives “warning” us to avoid this or that relationship. We even have priests and preachers that warn us of spiritual dangers to our lives and yet, we sleep through the warnings.
The Church gives us a HUGE Alarm about the time of year we are in by starting us on an odyssey through the Hebrew Scriptures! Today is Day 1 of that journey.
Look at our lesson today in Joel (yep, “Joel.” He’s one of the minor prophets in the Old Testament) 2:12-26:
“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord, your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love, and repents of evil. Who knows whether he will not turn and repent, and leave a blessing behind him, a cereal offering and a drink offering for the Lord, your God?
Blow the trumpet in Zion; sanctify a fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Sanctify the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber.
Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the Lord, weep and say, “Spare thy people, O Lord, and make not thy heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations. Why should they say among the peoples, ‘Where is their God?’” (Joel 2:12-17, please read the rest. You’ll really love it)
This Sunday is Forgiveness Sunday and we will step into Great Lent on our annual spiritual labor toward Pascha. So, how do we do Lent well? We do Lent well by not trying to do it on our own. We do Lent well by paying attention to the wisdom the Church gives us in all the tools provided to prepare us for this journey. And one of the main tools is the wake-up call of Fasting! Fasting is tied closely to repentance because the heart of repentance is finally waking up to the wrong way of thinking in our lives that produces wrong actions, choices, and behaviors. And what makes them “wrong” isn’t some violation of a rule as much as it is a revelation of a lack of love for God and too focused a love on me. So, what’s the remedy for unhealthy self-focus? Deprive the stomach of every little thing it wants! Learn to discipline my desires and to channel the power of desire towards a healthy spiritual life. The path to doing this is the gift of fasting and a purposeful Lent.
All too often it’s easy to miss the warnings in my life because my life, my soul, my mind is flooded with my own “voice.” The selfish wants drown out that “still, small voice” that is screaming at me that I am going down the wrong path. I am only going to wake up to those loving warnings if I stop the routine of spiritual deafness and listen to the wisdom that calls me to another path.
Today, are you planning right now how you and your family will keep a spiritually profitable Great Lent? Have you gone through the frig and the pantry to make sure “Clean Monday” is really clean? Don’t let this beautiful alarm of Great Lent be ignored because you’ve heard it so often before. Step up to a more purposeful Orthodox life by hearing the call in your soul from your Church to approach with love and confidence the gateway of Great Lent on Forgiveness Sunday!
P.S. Dear Lord, we struggle to stay awake in a world where being asleep to reality is the norm. We are inattentive, and we only seem to stir from our slumber during painful times in our lives. But You never give up on us, O Lord. You continue calling us over and over again in the gift of Your Church designing our year in such a way that we come to this moment to prepare to celebrate Your Resurrection awake to Your love for us. Thank You, O Lord, for the gift of Great Lent and the disciplines of Cheesefare week as we prepare for that Forgiveness Sunday that makes the following Monday truly “clean.” Help me, O Lord to become “clean” by Your grace. Amen