“Shout with the voice of a trumpet blast. Shout aloud! Don’t be timid. Tell my people Israel of their sins! Yet they act so pious! They come to the Temple every day and seem delighted to learn about me. They act like a righteous nation that would never abandon the laws of its God. They ask me to take action on their behalf, pretending they want to be near me. ‘We have fasted before you!’ they say. ‘Why aren’t you impressed? We have been very hard on ourselves, and you don’t even notice it.” ~ Isaiah 58:1-3 (NLT)
“I know that you don’t understand ’cause you don’t believe what you don’t see. When you watch me throwing punches at the devil, it just looks like I’m fighting with me…
But there’s comfort in failure.
Singing too loud in church
Screaming my fears into speakers
Till I collapse or burst
Whichever comes first…”
~ Julien Baker, Shadowboxers
Let’s talk about prayer and fasting. Or better yet, let’s talk about fasting, thoughts and prayers in a nation that is all about thoughts and prayers. And fasting but only when it makes us look good.
First, there’s the fasting.
Fasting. I tried that once. Or a thousand times. All I got were headaches, a grumbling stomach, and told that I was either too skinny or too chubby.
Chubby. Fat. Overweight. Heavy. Words that have never been a compliment when I was in times of my life that wouldn’t be described as times I was physically skinny. I remember turning not eating into a ritual. Or controlling my eating so that I’d weight exactly how much I wanted to weigh. This started in middle school when someone told me I was chubby. Ok. My father told me I was chubby. And honestly, fuck that noise. But anyway. Sometimes I would weigh myself multiple times a day. It was mostly because my weight was a thing I could control while others in my life controlled most everything else. I would eat less. Read my Bible more. Try praying more. And somehow that was never enough. It was never enough for me to be enough for my parents, or my church, or myself.
I am finally learning to love myself and my body. Only because others have reminded me that I am enough. And because my partner affirmed me first. I didn’t believe I was beautiful until she told me so. She knew something about me to be true not because I was skinny, or because I was trying to lose weight. But because she really saw me.
Then there are thoughts and prayers.
Thoughts. Thoughts like: I have already tried giving up things and parts of myself just to hope I’ll be loved by other people and God. And that maybe once I’ve given up everything and
Prayed enough. For there to be peace on earth, and for us to love each other and not murder our children. Prayers…the prayers, and the thoughts, and the fasting have all changed to prayers like: Lord, have mercy on a country, a president, and a Congress who are ok with children being massacred for the sake of “freedom.”
Thoughts are now more like: Maybe I just have to be. And to be means to be kind, to seek justice, to be merciful, and to love. And this season of Lent where I’m focusing more on death and suffering has just ripped my heart out and put it on display for you.
I am tired of people dying and suffering. Honestly, I’m tired of any one putting themselves in pain for the sake of others being in control, and having power and freedom.
I am so very tired of fighting with myself to be something for others when I just have to be myself.
Another pre-Lenten practice that I’ve carried over other than learning to love myself and love others better is writing letters to Mary Magdalene and today’s probably reflects more of how I felt growing up in a fundamentalist church and how I feel now in encountering Jesus:
Dear Mary Magdalene,
Did they tell you that you were crazy? that you were unhinged, or that you didn’t believe enough to be healed? Did they tell you that you weren’t worth loving because you were crazy? With all the demons in your head…were people afraid of you?
I have to wonder if that first encounter with Jesus–just meeting him–was what started the healing process for you. Because you were seen and you were loved. And he didn’t tell you you were crazy. He just freed you to be yourself. Maybe I’m projecting…but I hope this is true. I hope this for myself because I know that’s the Jesus I’ve come to know so well.