Keeping the Season

Western Christians love to rush into Christmas. (Better called the Nativity, as the Orthodox do – every worship service can be called the Christ-mass.) As soon as the weather turns cold and the Halloween pumpkins have collapsed into dejected mush, out come the chubby Santas and the coloured lights, the tinsel and the ho-ho-ho.  St. Nicholas of Myra would not have said ho-ho-ho. He would have said “Repent and be saved!” And St. Nicholas of Myra would have been lean and strong from fasting, and didn’t need magic. He had miracles. He is, in his place before the throne of God, a great saint of healing. The Lord hears his prayers for us still. He is a solemn and wise saint, known for restoring life and health, as well as for his acts of charity.

We should be following his example beginning Monday. Advent – the days of preparation before the Feast of the Nativity (yes, Christmas) – are a season of fasting. That is why we sing “O Come Emmanuel.”

O Come, o come, Emmanuel,

And ransom captive Israel, that mourns in lonely exile here,

Until the Son of God appear.

We are a lost and lonely people, and until we turn our faces toward the Light of our Father in His Beloved Son, we cannot know the Spirit of joy. Why are we like this? We turn continually to the wrong things, to worldly things, to pleasure and trinkets and momentary sensations that ignite the nerves but not the soul. We please the sinful body and not the exalted body that we anticipate at His return. We are not prepared.

The great Alexander Schmemann (+1983) exile and theologian, wrote this in Great Lent:

“It is a characteristic of the Orthodox liturgical tradition that every major feast or season – Easter, Christmas, Lent, etc. – is announced and “prepared” in advance. Why? Because of the deep psychological insight by the Church into human nature. Knowing our lack of concentration and the frightening “worldliness” of our life, the Church knows our inability to change rapidly, to go abruptly from one spiritual or mental state into another.”

When we skip over the preparation of our hearts for the solemn festival of the Incarnation, we do not move from the world into God’s presence. The world, of course, here means that which is sinful and fallen, the God-created that we claim as just our own, failing to see that Satan followed Man out of the garden and continues to whisper lies. When we live in that fallen world, we do not live in the Kingdom, which the Prince of Peace proclaimed and for which He died, giving us the victory in this Christ.

Fasting in preparation for the festival is certainly not decorating the house, lawn, dog, car and ourselves while indulging in rich foods, lots of drink, and riotous behaviour. It’s the opposite. The expectation the Church had until about fifty years ago was that Advent would be a time of confession, restitution and restoration. It is the time of reconciliation for peace on Earth. This is not done easily or superficially.

The fast is the physical discipline. We are creatures of substance, not ephemeral spirits. The body informs the spirit, but the body needs to be reminded that it is not in charge. It is the Word of God that guides what we do, as well as what we believe. Faith that is not lived in the body is a dead faith, a false faith. Fasting is part of that. It reminds us that what we receive we receive from the Lord, not ourselves. Fasting is to make us truly grateful, and to conquer our whims and passions. This is totally opposite to what the world teaches us everyday, as we are encouraged to buy, indulge, luxuriate. We pamper ourselves and think we deserve it.

This attitude and indulgence leads to self-centeredness and waste. We know this. We know we throw away more than we use, that we sap the resources of others for our own wantonness. We take more than our fair share. And we continue to do it, despite knowing we shouldn’t, despite knowing that the consequences will be, in the end, fatal to ourselves. Truly the Apostle said, “I do the thing that I do not wish to do!”

Fasting is the turning of the will of our human nature to the perfect will of God. Fasting is turning away from waste and wantonness, and away from destruction through indulgence. It is a time for self-examination. It is a time for prayer and renewal of relationship with God, and with those we have injured.

Fasting can become legalistic. This is part of our human nature, to reduce the important work of our spirit to self-righteousness and routine. This is why we wash our faces, put on clean clothes, and go about cheerful, because it keeps us from falling into righteousness for our own sake, and not through God. Fasting is a solemn joy, but joy it is, as it takes us step by step closer to the Kingdom.

The Festal Day will come, and we can enjoy it all the more for the self-denial we have practiced, and for the spiritual strength we have gained. We can enjoy our feast more because we have given to others in our fast. The way of righteousness is fasting, prayer and alms-giving; the reward of righteousness is a seat at the Lord’s banquet. “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

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5 thoughts on “Keeping the Season

  1. My goodness!!

    You have so perfectly cut to the chase; said what needs to be said not only on line but from every pulpit across the Western world!! Indeed, we need to reclaim these life sustaining skills, making use of our Heavenly Father’s creation wisely, sustainably and in humility. I am blessed to be able to bake, to have the skill to work my way around a kitchen, to spin (haven’t sat down at the sadly neglected wheel now for four years; needs a service dreadfully) and bake a decent loaf of bread. This, stock making, preserving, providing nutritious, satisfying, sustaining fare for our families, friends and loved ones is such a pleasure that draws people together. When we buy convenience, we contribute to the use of resources to get the raw materials to the factory, run the plant and machinery (including energy and water), make the packaging (often with obscene amounts of plastic and dyes that are oil based), ship packaging to food processing factory, then finally ship the finished product to distribution depots and finally the local mall. This does not support sustainable, small-scale, locally based agriculture; indeed, the most fertile land about our population centres is being concreted over to build vast housing estates with no provision for people to grow much for themselves at all…

    Then there’s the use of timber; rather than respect Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ and the creation he bequeathed to us, forests are not sustainably harvested, coppassing is not practiced any more (please excuse spelling) and beautiful timber that could be transformed into timeless furnishings, whether simple or more ornate that serve a purpose and will last for centuries is turned into pulp for paper making!! Yes, we do need paper, but NOT THIS WAY, PLEASE!! Indeed, High tech makes a genuine difference to the lives of millions, but it is produced with planned obsolescence in mind, rather than being something that will last for years with the ability to be upgraded. Tech is not recycled but thrown into landfills day in, day out. We outsource everything, the production of our food, clothing, furnishings, (rather than either make these ourselves (such as food and clothing) or support local bakers, tailors, seamstresses, or, in the case of furnishings, made using pulped timber transformed into particle board (I’m not even going to go there), and, more shockingly, even illegally logged timber, and this is made by persons in China, Eastern Europe etc., working in miserable conditions, then shipped back to us rather than us supporting local craftsmen and local sustainable industry that could provide livelihoods for so many, keep everything local, more sustainable and keep millenia old skills alive.

    What are folk in one hundred years going to say about the culture of the latter 20th century/early 21st century with its focus upon consumerism, greed, exploitation, turning away from God, destroying relationships with both our Heavenly Father and one another?

    I haven’t even touched on the fact we also outsource the care of our children and old folk to a huge extent.

    We need to return to the old paths and soon!!!

    Please, please keep on writing these brilliant posts,

    A fellow Anglican modest dressing headcoverer in suburban Australia,

  2. Sarah, thanks for your support and encouragement. The Anglicans in Australia seem to be experiencing a sense of revival that I pray will spread to North America.

    We have just started living in intentional community with family members, and in many ways it is going so well. But I have to practice some humility rather than imposing my own ideas of what “food” is on the others, since they do not have a background of home-cooking! It can be a major transition for people who grew up with microwaves to cooking from basic ingredients. They aren’t used to the taste of lentils, fresh onions and whole grains! We have to accommodate some prepared “instant” foods for the time being. The youngies in particular look at a whole chicken or a jar of split-peas with great trepidation, until Aunt M turns it into something yummy. We have one youngie in college who is also working part-time and has very certain tastes, so I don’t push her to eat something strange and new. She’s not ready. But the others are asking for homemade porridge and whole-grain bread.

    Mindfulness and intentionality – that’s where the Holy Spirit puts us right now, in a place where we can hear the Voice of Christ calling us to communion not just with others in weekly worship, but to communion with humanity, with creation, with all the host of heaven.

    Just as a woman-to-woman question, what kind of wheel do you have? I have two – an Ashford traveller, and an antique wool wheel from Quebec. I am ready to start spinning again myself.

  3. Dearest Magdelena,

    Thank you for such a gracious response!! Yes, I know where you are coming from re: whole foods; if one hasn’t been exposed to it as a normal part of one’s diet, it can be an alien experience indeed. Step by step, eh?? 🙂 Your living in community sounds fabulous!! Oh, for the ability to do so. What do you think about the way the Hutterites etc. live in community, and could such be transferred to the Anglican experience, say, in suburban Sydney, for instance (where I live). As a former Adventist, there were many ‘heeding the call’ and returning to rural, self-sustaining living 20 years before this gained sound street cred with a wider segment of the population. As for the shape of anglicanism in Australia, the Sydney Diocese is taking the lead, I think, though many consider us far too conservative 🙂

    I’m the only coverer/modest dresser in my congregation, not quite plain, but ‘getting there’ – (courtesy of http://www.thekingsdaughters.com). Vision impairment (rather significant, of the guide dog using, Braille reading variety) prevents me from sewing my own, and, the next step to making this sort of thing more sustainable is to purchase their patterns and have made locally. To see how folk with significant vision impairment navigate the computer world, take a look at http://www.humanware.com and http://www.serotek.com .

    As for spinning, I use an Ashford (one of the traditional ones); I’d love a traveller, but, ehm, it’ll come in time and with a service the old wheel will come up just like new. Well, my husband and I were in New Zealand last year, went to the Ashford factory where I sat down to try a new wheel. Well, it had been 3 years, and I sat with one that I’d never used, the tension was all wrong and I looked like a right git before the patient ladies who were probably thinking (yes, dear, we know you can spin…..NOT)!! Talk about a lesson in humility!! 🙂

    I’m currently studying theology part time at Australian Catholic University and many of the sentiments you’ve echoed here are to one extent or another reiterated there.

    However, I am alone on campus as a coverer (and when off campus even this is reduced to a simple $3 bun cover) when with family and long time family friends who are not sympathetic, indeed hostile in some cases to Christianity and the word of God.

    I pray for genuine revival within Anglican circles, that we women stand up and be counted, living the modest, covered, plain (or at least, simplified) life, and that there are increasing numbers of ministers willing to preach this from the pulpit.

    Once again, May God bless you abundantly!!

    Sarah,
    Australia.

  4. Thank you, Sarah. My husband, Nicholas, upgraded my Ashford wheel by substituting bolts and sleeves for the original furniture-grade hardware. Ashford makes these easy to assemble – they are shipped flat here – but if you use it a lot, it gets wobbly. I need to get drive bands on everything, but the right cord is hard to find. Always oil your wheel before using it – it does make a big difference. I learned on an Ashford traditional, and it is one of the best in that price range. Of course, we can all dream of the fancy handmade ones, but really, are they going to make you spin better? I’ve had the same experience with new demonstrators. Sometimes the last user adjusted too much, or some child played with it, or it has a very different set-up than your own wheel – and you look like some amateur in front of a lot of skilled people. So it’s not just you! I once had the flyer literally fly off and hit someone.

    As for those hostile to Christianity and your expression of your faith: I’ve been there, and still am, with some family members. One young man in the family is really struggling with belief, and is quite vocal about it. I did let him know that Jesus-bashing was not acceptable to us, and he took it with respect. Some day you may just have to take the plunge. At least the family and friends should accept that the cap and plain dress are just part of who you are. Mine look at it as just another expression of my basic weirdness.

  5. Dear Magdelaina,

    Indeed, Indeed… I truly felt for you upon reading of your spinning wheel demonstration exploits…I am comforted that I’m not alone 🙂

    Concerning my family, plain dress and headcovering, six years ago, Christmas eve as it happens, I was embroiled in a terrible family argument; very bitter, concerning covering and modest dress courtesy of immediate family. This led to almost a year of withdrawal on my part for not wanting to endure any more pain. Relations have been slowly put back together, but the scars run very very deep and it’s a toss up between the fifth commandment and 1 Cor 11…

    I pray I am ever open to God’s leading and I think He is gently, bit by bit, getting me there. Also, though very understanding, hubby isn’t a believer and bauks at the cap :-0

    Step by step. Indeed, I am seen as ‘eccentric’ by many people…

    May you be truly blessed this ADvent season,

    Sarah.

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