Practicing your piety

The non-negotiables cartwheel off the page, come Ash Wednesday: Almsgiving, praying, fasting. Lent is perhaps more than this but it almost certainly includes these spiritual disciplines.

Jesus discusses almsgiving, praying, and fasting as though we are already are. “Whenever” is the key word (v.2, v.6, v.16).

One can, of course, give alms, pray, and fast anytime. Matthew’s gospel says nothing about this piety being strictly a February thing. It’s just that Christians have traditionally taken up these practices with sharper focus at this time of year.

Counter-arguments abound: I will not fast because I get light-headed. I am a giving person so does it really matter how intentional I am about what I give to whom? I pray for people. How I do it and how often is my business.

In a crunch, my go-to way to distance myself from life lived in increasing faithfulness to these tenants is to tell myself that I am doing more than most people. How lame is that? Extremely.

Everybody loves to talk about discipline when it’s other people who need it. For example, the person who so clearly sees a lack of discipline in someone else’s spending habits does not see their own lack of discipline when it comes to eating well and exercising.

Few of us like to talk about discipline when it’s our lifestyle up for examination.

Here’s the challenge – and I am including myself in the addressees – give alms, pray, and fast in a new way this Lent. By “new” I mean new-to-you. Give money to the poor (almsgiving), listen for God in a set-apart setting (pray), refrain from catering to a particular craving (fasting)...and see what happens.

If you are making a note to self to steer clear of church, how about starting with one of the three? We’ve got a few days to think it over. When the plates (or baskets) go ‘round next Sunday, February 25, I hope that we will be those with a decided-upon spiritual discipline to offer.

How attached are we to stuff that fails to propel us in the way of doing no harm, doing good, and staying in love with God? Lent will show us if we let it.


Rachel May