A Season of Self-Emptying

As I prepared to write my Ash Wednesday meditation last week, I read a blog post entitled "Eating Chocolate for Lent" from one of my favorite professors from Seminary, Amy Laura Hall. Her words grabbed a hold of my imagination, and they completely changed the way that I approached the meditation I was preparing.

In the blog entry, she wonders what it looks like to invite persons into a season of self-emptying for those who have been habituated in the emptying of themselves, especially women, many of whom have been "taught from their first year to bite their tongue and offer their food." She wonders, if Christian virtue is about coming to a mean, what would it look like for those who have been emptying themselves in unhealthy ways to take on habits that contribute to their personhood?

If some of the folks in our congregations have been emptying themselves in this way, then might we as those who lead worship and call others in the name of the Church to observe a Holy Lent very well contribute to their oppression of some persons?

This question rattled around in my head all day. I'm still thinking it through, but I thought the questions generated by Dr. Hall's blog entry are worth considering.

Below, you will find the content of the meditation I gave to my congregation prior the Invitation to Observance of Lenten Discipline. I don't offer it as any kind of definitive response; rather, I'm posting here as a place to further the conversation because I believe it is one worth having:

"As I prepared to invite you to observe a Holy Lent, my thoughts about this subject became deeply complicated. As I read a blog entry from one of my favorite professors in seminary, I was challenged to consider what it means to call others into a season of self-emptying, when there is the possibility that many among us might be emptying themselves in ways that actually lead to their oppression. I thought of this particularly about women, some of whom have been told "from an early age to bite their tongue and offer their food."

Lent is about becoming more human, not less human. Christian virtue is about moving towards a mean. Lent is about embracing Christ as the beginning and ending of our lives. Perhaps, for some of you among us, men and women both, there are things that we need to give up or take on to become more human. And that might not always mean stopping eating. For some of us, it may mean to begin eating. This same professor in seminary once recommended that a young woman with body image issues bake herself cookies every day during Lent. For this woman, such a discipline became a time of healing, even though we might at first glance consider her actions a sign of indulgence.

Even as I fast myself at different times, even as I recommend fasting to others, I also wonder about the places that my recommendations might do damage. After all, the prevailing message we have ringing in our ears is "DON'T EAT." The worse thing I could do as your pastor is to baptize that message without qualification. Perhaps the fast to which some of us are called is to fast from doing things that destroy us. From running ourselves ragged. Perhaps our fast must be from busyness. Perhaps it is for those who have felt unable to speak for one reason or another to give voice to the pain that is within them."


Alan Combs