Today is Ash Wednesday. I went into Jacksonville for a noon service of ashes. It was an informal, self guided tour of the sanctuary with four stations set up for meditation. One had a pot of dirt; one had a bowl of water; one had candles and one had a crown of thorns. There were readings at each site and then a place to meditate in the center of the sanctuary. When I was ready our pastor was there to put the ashes on my forehead in the sign of the cross. The ashes were more like a black paste which made a noticeable cross right in the center of my forehead. I had decided I would fast for lunch because I was at church but I wanted to stop for coffee on my way home. What do I do about the ashen cross on my forehead, I wondered? What will people in the coffee shop think? Will it seem silly? Or will it be a witness? I don't know if many people, Southern Baptists or Seculars know what Ash Wednesday is so they will probably think I didn't wash my face this morning. Then, I wondered if Jesus words about letting others know you are fasting when you are was applicable to this stop for coffee. Will some people think I am showing off my piety. That would not be a good thing to do especially on this day of humility. So, I left the ashy cross on my head and ordered my coffee and I don't think I created any sort of a scene. In this hipster coffee shop it could have been a tattoo. I kept it on all day until my wife got home from work, took one look at me, and said, what is that on your forehead? It was said in her - now what did you do - voice.
After I got home, while she was still at work, I made some bread and chocolate chip cookies. When I sampled the chip laden dough, I was stricken with the thought that I had broken the fast! Sheesh, I could not even make it through the afternoon without eating something, I scolded myself. That's why I don't fast much; I'm not good at it. Spiritual disciplines are like that. They can set us up to fail. Or, we can set ourselves up to fail. When my wife got home I told her I couldn't even fast right on ash Wednesday. She asked, isn't the point of the fast not to eat so you can devote time for prayer and meditation? I guess so, I said. It looked like I had gotten hung up on the finer points of the law a couple of times. Like Israel, so God gave Isaiah what we call chapter 58 to preach to them to ponder.
On the final station at the service today there was another description of a fast. It was similar to Isaiah 58. It was written by Christine Sine and is from the book, Journey Into Wholeness, which is available through Mustard Seed Associates.
We have chosen to fast,
Not with ashes but with actions.
Not with sackcloth but in sharing.
Not in thoughts but in deeds.
We will give up our abundance.
To share with the hungry.
We will give up our comfort,
to house the destitute.
We will give up our fashions,
to see the naked clothed.
We will share where others hoard.
Free where others oppress.
And heal where others harm.
Then, God's light will break upon us,
We will be called repairers of the broken walls,
Welcomed at God's banquet table.