Like most other times a fast approaches, my initial thoughts about this Nativity Fast were laced with stress: “I’m not ready!”
And this year, gearing up for a sacred period of preparation for the incarnation seemed especially challenging.
Truth be told, I’ve been wrestling with a lot of disappointment lately, in my own failings and in the state of our nation. I’ve been discouraged, disillusioned, and downright depressed over the dwindling love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control in our angry, frightened country.
People are suffering and scared and we are screaming at one another with accusations and assumptions that are cruel, sarcastic, and sweeping. We are demonizing our neighbors, vomiting up harsh and piercing words, spreading hate like a disease. Division and discrimination are flourishing in this poisonous climate of seething vitriol and enflamed passions.
I can’t make sense anymore of “righteous indignation” at the expense of gentleness and mercy. I once carried pat answers in my back pocket to common difficult life questions. I thought I had a handle on things, Christianity-wise, but now I realize I comprehend very, very little about the mysterious ways of God.
So that’s a plus, I suppose. I’ve been humbled. I’ve given up thinking, judging, generating opinions and trying to figure stuff out. I’m starting from scratch, and simplifying, hoping to advance to a more childlike faith in Christ. Prayer and compassion are my only compass. “If we are quiet it will become clear and we will know what we are each meant to do,” my wise friend reassured me the other day.
“Help me rise above,” I’ve been begging of Christ. “Help me transcend earthly cares and rationales.”
So this fast, here it comes on the heels of a toxic election and yes, it seems daunting, but still I find myself weeping over the grace of it all. I’m so tired, so fragile, and here is a gift placed in my lap that can heal my broken spirit.
“Approach it with joy!” my priest friend told me. Repentance and quiet, self-restraint and more prayer, are exactly what I need! And humility, I need that too. And bridge building acts of unconditional service that soften my heart, dampen those enflamed passions, and help me see Christ in literally everyone, especially my enemies and those who are different from me because that’s where the rubber meets the road and the demons are confounded.
His ways are not our ways.
His ways move mountains and raise the dead.
I listened to a homily this morning by Fr. Antony Hughes at St. Mary’s Orthodox Church in Cambridge, MA. It was titled, “A Revolution of Love” and boy did it refresh my weary soul. How can we be salt and light in this rapidly changing and disturbingly discordant social environment?
Fr. Antony reminded me it will require, yes, love, but not just any kind of love, not imperfect and limited self-manufactured love, rather the extreme sacrificial Kingdom of Heaven kind of love that can miraculously flow through us if we empty ourselves of pride. He said:
Our response to hatred must always be love. “When they go low, we go high” is a beautiful Christian sentiment. “They” means anyone who hates and acts out on it. “We” means those who follow Christ. This is not a political statement. Folks, we need to talk with one another and care for one another. Jesus overcame the world by going high that is by humility. We must go high, very high, as high as humanly possible and when we reach the limits we can reach we must ask God to give us the power to go even higher. “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for a friend.” Yes, perhaps, even that… No propaganda. Only Truth. No hatred. Only love. No violence. Only Peace. No bigotry. Only Tolerance. We desperately need to foment a revolution of love… So, I ask you please. Do not let anger and hatred rule you. Stay vigilant. Help and do not hurt.
I am thankful for this communal season of laying aside busyness and distractions that we might focus on the mind-blowing truth of God becoming man that we in turn might unite ourselves to God and become partakers of His divine nature. I couldn’t do it on my own. May increased prayer, fasting, stillness, and almsgiving help us to more fervently love God, and our neighbor, and fill us to overflowing with restorative peace, benevolence, and hope! We need it now more than ever!
Holding fast to the law of love, let us embrace the intent of brotherly love, establishing peace one with another, and oneness of mind; for Christ, the Giver of peace, is coming, bringing peace to all. (Canon of Compline of the Forefeast, December 22, eighth ode)