Ash Wednesday began in a lovely way. After taking the time for personal hygiene, I was able to see the children off to school, then sat down as is my custom to a cup of Irish Breakfast tea and a brief conversation with my beloved. We then prayed the Office together before I made my way to the Rector's Study for a day of study, reflection and prayer to begin the Lenten fast.
Part of my Lenten discipline is to fast on Ash Wednesday, and over the years I have had varying degrees of "success". I am not a person of great discipline when it comes to food, as I like it too much. I will admit that I struggle with the sin of gluttony. My struggle can be seen with my ever increasing girth, and this particular sin is the focus of my Lenten discipline this year. I am trying to fast regularly, watch my intake of food (particularly the fast and processed kind), and in general to be mindful of my eating habits.
So, as I came to the building this morning, I began to prepare for tonight's liturgy, and found that the ashes I thought we had, we did not. Reflecting on this development, I recognized the comedy of errors that led me to this find. Without rehearsing the details, I discovered, in short, it was my fault. (Is failure to plan ahead a sin? If so, there's another one to work on). Mea culpa, mea maxima culpa. In a panic, I thought about burning the greenery from last Sunday's flowers, but a calmer head prevailed and after a couple of phone calls I found myself on the road to acquire the last packet of ashes at Lagron-Miller.
In the midst of this, the hunger struck. On the road, listening to the radio, and passing all the signs for the quick meals, my belly started to rumble. On the return, surrounded by restaurants I began to feel weak, both physically and spiritually. I was craving. A juicy burger would be wonderful, a chicken sandwich, Chipotle, Taco Bell, Subway, I was even considering stopping for the compromise of a decent salad. I know, that last one indicated my desperation! So, I turned off the radio and spent the time in prayer, passing up all those wonderful delicious options. The final temptation was returning to hear our Administrator announce that she was going to the soup restaurant for their delicious Lobster Bisque. Get thee behind me, and back to the study for prayer.
So the fast continues, with Jesus's help, so far.
I do not write this as a wish for congratulations, or even to "publicly" announce my fasting and turn it into some sort of Pharisaic cause for pride. I write because it is a small victory.
Would it have been some great sin to eat? No. Would it have been some great sin to stop for a quick processed meal? No. But, it would have been a one in giving into the temptation to take the easy way out, and not keeping discipline. No, it would not have been unforgivable, but it would not have been a step in the right direction for my spiritual discipline. I could have be forgiven, but strength only comes with struggle.
The lesson, for me, is about grace. Of course, grace is available in forgiveness, but God's grace was available through prayer to make one small step of victory.
And isn't that what we all need?
That is part of the message of Lent.