Calisthenics and physical workouts go on for months before the first game of most sports. Getting in shapes to be able to avoid defeat and attain victory is the objective. Contemplating the pain of defeat and the joy of victory propels the energy of athletes. It is all about not being a loser and becoming a winner. Anyone walking into an athletic arena without training is a push-over – a sure and prompt loser.
We are all by nature weak, physically and spiritually. Our weak self-complacent nature undisturbed, leads to a weak life, not able to achieve good – physically and spiritually.
“Without me you can do nothing” [words of Jesus, John 15:5], have always been reverenced by those who are serious Christians. By faith in the words of this marvelous Wonder-Worker as well as from the bitter failure experience of trying life without Him, people of faith have been people of prayer (connected to the Divine), as well as people of fasting (living by the spirit not the flesh). Fasting can be as anyone chooses; traditionally one meal a day, usually meatless. By the year 325 (Church Council of Nicea) the custom of the forty days of prayer and fasting prior to Easter was well established. From the beginning Christians saw the need of a serious period of spiritual calisthenics in preparation of the most exalted celebration of their Savior, his Resurrection.
The “forty days” came from following Jesus’ example [Luke 4:2] and Moses’ example [Exodus 34:28 and Deut. 9:18]; understood as a serious and committed time period of spiritual communion with God; understood as needed defense against the assailing temptation of the flesh by the devil (as Jesus was attacked) and the repentance from sin (as Moses praying for his people’s golden calf worship); understood to be necessary to avoid being a spiritual push-over – an everlasting loser.
The term “Lent” came from the Anglo-Saxon Lencten meaning “spring” and it was also the word for “March”, the month within which most of the days of Lent usually fall.
Even though today over 85 percent of Christian denominations in the world retain observance of Lent, the observance is ignored by many Christians. Strengthening one’s spirit and will-power by prayer and self- denial is seen by some as archaic, unnatural, superstitious, and bodily harmful, even though clearly practiced by Jesus and the first Christians [Acts 13:2 and 14:23].
The observance of Lent (by any prayer and spiritually motivated self-denial) is not an end in itself, any more than athletic calisthenics are. The goal is to be strong and to win. Spiritually the contest is to win the most grave and serious task of life, following the morally straight and narrow path as prescribed by our Maker; a path that promises the victory of eternal life in his Kingdom.
“Take care or you will be seduced into turning away, serving other gods and worshipping them.” [Deut. 11:16]
May we all be winners forever, committed to calisthenics of the soul; committed to prayer and fasting. May our god not be our belly [Phil. 4:19].
The Rev. John Burkhart Ph.D, is a retired Episcopal priest and professor of psychology
firstname.lastname@example.org blog at inspirationsandideas