A quiet observance

Ash Wednesday

Matthew 6:1-8,14-18

Marian Free


In the name of God who created us and who, with our consent, continues to recreate us. Amen.

Jerusalem - Ramadan

Canon fire to mark end of fasting.

In 2015, we were in Jerusalem during Ramadan. Two things stood out, one was the fact that it was not until 8:00pm that the streets came alive. Food vendors who had been there for most of the day suddenly became busy as Palestinians came out to eat. The second was the canon (yes, canon) that helpfully fired at 4:00am to remind people that the time to fast had begun and again at 8:00pm to indicate that the fast had ended. Our Palestinian driver was observing Ramadan and while we Westerners ate lunch, he sat in the bus eating nothing.

One of the most challenging things about being in a largely Muslim country is the observance of faith. Five times a day the Muezzin gives the call to prayer – a haunting chant that floats overhead reminding the observant to stop what they are doing and offer worship to God. Five times a day faithful Muslims unroll their prayer mats and in full view of the world make their obeisance. For myself the call to prayer is a powerful reminder of the presence of God in every aspect of life, further, it always seems to me that such a public proclamation is an indictment of the Christian world whose faith is practiced behind closed door. (We might ring bells before services, but today few churches ring the Angelus.)

I think that it would be fair to say that in today’s secular world, more people know about Ramadan than they do about Lent. The reason for this can be placed directly at our door. If our observance is lack-lustre or non-existent, there is no reason for others to ask what we are doing and why. If we ourselves are not prepared to demonstrate that it is possible to go without for a short time or that it is necessary to hone our spiritual practices, how can we possibly confront the materialism and secularism of the world around us?

That does not mean that we should fast loudly and blatantly. It certainly doesn’t mean that we should go about with long faces so that everyone is able to notice how much we are suffering for our faith. Just the opposite – our practice of Lent should be quiet and unobtrusive. If our abstinence or our practice is noticed by others, we can say, without fanfare, something like: “Oh, this is just something that I am doing for Lent.” It is just possible that this will lead to further questions about why we do such things in Lent and give us opportunities to expand on the benefits of devoting a period of time to being less self-obsessed.

It is possible too that some will find our Lenten practice disquieting and confronting. Some people may feel uncomfortable around us if they are being extravagant and we are being economic, if they are feasting and we are fasting. Hopefully their disquiet may lead to further thought and questions (just as the Muezzin confronts my failure to display my faith more publicly).

Either way, without trumpeting our self-righteousness or proclaiming our self-discipline, an observance of Lent by more than just a few of us, may just enable the secular world to understand that we take our faith seriously, that our practice of the faith is more than just outward form and that God as known through Jesus Christ is indeed a very real presence in the world.

Let this be a year in which we take our practice seriously and in which our observance of Lent contributes to the knowledge of God in the world.


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