Isaiah 55: [Listen], everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and you that have no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
...We reach for comfort food when we’re hungry for emotional comfort, we eat when we’re bored or tired, we even turn to alcoholic spirits when we’re longing for spiritedness, for passion. This Lent I’ve learned more about this passage from Isaiah, more about ways we spend money for that which is not bread, and labor for that which does not satisfy, as I read the profound spiritual memoir Thirst by James Nelson. James Nelson was a highly respected seminary professor and writer who, at the height of a successful career, checked into residential alcohol treatment.
He writes, “St Francis of Assisi, a patron saint of alcoholics, emphasized the snare of attachment and the need for detachment in true spirituality. In recovery circles the synonyms often used for attachment are clinging, holding on, coving, and grasping, while the key phrase for detachment is letting go. As seen in St. Francis, spiritual poverty is also a persistent theme. It is not simply letting go of material wealth, but, more deeply, surrendering self-will and becoming genuinely indifferent to anything that would claim ultimacy or would claim to be an essential part of the self.”
Detachment doesn’t sound positive to all of our modern ears – for some of us, detachment can sound like disinterest, apathy or even self-centeredness. But for monastics of many places and times, desert mothers and fathers, even Jesus venturing into the wilderness, detachment is striving to be in the world but not of the world. Detachment, says James Nelson, is “not so much the freedom from desire as it is the freedom of desire. It is not the abandonment of all desire or passion, but rather letting go of any anxious grasping that has the desire to possess. It is not letting go of relationships, but rather letting go of the attempt to possess the other person in a relationship. It is not letting go of material objects or satisfying experiences, but rather letting go of everything I have deemed essential to my well-being.”
Lent is our invitation to let go. Remember that our breathing is wise. Our breath, God-created, Spirit-filled, Christ-shared, breath, connects us to all the life around us, all the wisdom of our divine design, filling us and emptying us. We hold our breath when we’re focused, frightened, filled with anticipation. Now we can let our breath go, we can empty. We can empty our lungs with faith that we will fill them again.
It’s not so easy with our pockets, our bank accounts, our hearts. We learn from our breath. Each time we exhale we practice letting go....
We breathe in restoration. We breathe out what does not serve us.
The fasting or letting go we practice in Lent makes Easter all the sweeter. We don’t give things up out of penance or guilt or sorrow. We let go so we can appreciate and anticipate and celebrate the feast we share.
What no’s could you say that would turn your yes’s into feasts?