I’m proud of my children; each one has unique gifts and skills. David, my oldest, is a Navy Chaplain stationed in Okinawa, Japan. He shares his weekly bulletin with his Dad and me. I think his meditations deserve a wider circulation than those who get it at church on Sundays. So, during Lent, I will share each of his meditations. Perhaps you’ll find them as soul-searching and thought-provoking as I do.
“Every parent has heard it often, perhaps even uttering it themselves a few times: “There’s nothing to eat!” In the case of children, who may not see the variety of combinations that can be made with the available ingredients, the lament is understandable, but for those of us who can see that with a little effort there is actually plenty to eat, it’s simply laziness. Complicating matters further is our human tendency to be so focused on immediate circumstances that we become blind to the wider view around us. We lose sight of the forest behind the tree in front of us.
“It was one particular tree that obscured the vision of Adam and Eve. They were given an entire garden from which to eat anything they wanted as much as they wanted, except for one tree. And that one prohibition became their overwhelming obsession. They overlooked their abundance, transfixed by their limitation.
“The Great Martyr Saint Polycarp, however, was better than that. An apostolic and prophetic man, and model of faith and truth, St. Polycarp was a disciple of St. John the Evangelist. Already an old man when Marcus Aurelius began his persecution of Christians in the second century, the saint was brought by the Proconsul of Smyrna into the stadium and was commanded, “Swear by the fortune of Caesar; repent, and say, ‘Away with the atheists.'” By atheists, the Proconsul meant the Christians. But Polycarp, gazing at the heathen in the stadium, waved his hand towards them and said, “Away with the atheists.”
“St. Polycarp could have looked at his present circumstances and given up, and maybe would have if he had only been able to fix his eyes on his impending death and present trial. But he never lost sight of the wider view, and when the Proconsul again urged him to blaspheme against Christ, he said, “I have been serving Christ for eighty-six years, and He has wronged me in nothing; how can I blaspheme my King Who has saved me?”
“It seems to me a peculiarly American trait to rebel against our limitations, equating such rebelliousness to virtue. “Breaking the rules” is every new product’s commercial tagline. But it is deeper even than our national tendency, it is part of our human nature. We are rebellious. We don’t like to be told what to do, and religion and the Church feel oppressive for all of their rules and restrictions until God Himself looks to us like a big, bossy-pants in the sky. We hold this perspective, however, only when we can’t see around the tree in front of us. So close, so rigid, and so immovable that we complain that it isn’t fair and ask why we can’t just move it, when all we have to do is go a different direction. Once we turn just a little to the left or right a whole new vista opens up and we can see our situation isn’t so dire. Even that tree I was complaining about a moment ago is home to a lovely songbird.
“As we prepare to enter the Great Fast of Holy Lent this Monday [Wednesday for Western Christians], we must remember that it is easy for us to get stuck by biting off more than we can chew with a fasting or prayer rule too strenuous to faithfully sustain, and then wind up staring into the fridge saying “there’s nothing to eat.” Like our First Parents we become so blinded by our restrictions that we fail to see, as Polycarp did, how much we have for which to be thankful. However you fast, the point is not to concentrate on the rules—what you will and won’t eat, because that is a limited, blinded perspective. Rather, let the rules change your perspective, even if it’s only a little bit, so that the coming limitations of the Lenten Fast turn your eyes to the wider view of God’s providence. Then, hopefully, we will see how much there really is to eat when we ‘taste and see that the Lord is good.'”