Lent: A Spiritual Detox
“I’m gonna make him an offer he can’t refuse.”
You can imagine what the devil thought before heading off to the desert. Like Don Corleone in the Godfather, he was playing with a full deck and he was used to winning. There was nothing cheap in his offer, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” It is the challenge we all have to make.
Jesus had been fasting for forty days and nights. He was not supplementing with vitamins or protein shakes. He was hungry. Nothing would relieve the empty gnawing in His stomach more than a fresh loaf of bread. However, Satan’s offer cut deeper than that. Have you ever asked yourself, ‘Why couldn’t Jesus have made a little bread?’ He did, after all, have that power. So why not turn every stone into bread? Why not end hunger and starvation once and for all? In this light, the devil sounds like the true humanist. ‘Can you cut out all that religion, and just feed the poor?’
Is not this the spirit of our times? The American Humanist Association has the mission “to advance humanism, an ethical and life-affirming philosophy free of belief in any gods and other supernatural forces. Advocating for equality…to alleviate poverty, increase access to healthcare, empower women, promote education, ensure environmental sustainability and advance human rights.” The Richard Dawkins Foundation believes it has found the solution to hunger. Google is endeavoring to end death itself. “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread,” the devil tempted. Christ did not fall for it: “One does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”
What is it that makes life worth living? Hunger, poverty, inequality – no one can deny that these are real problems. In our own lives, we have all kinds of needs. Some of us are searching for gainful employment or struggling financially. Others are lonely, or depressed, or exhausted. Society is haunted by an epidemic of drugs, pornography and school shootings. Yet, we have food and education in plenty. In fact, we live in one of the most prosperous societies in history. So what is lacking? Perhaps Christ was right after all. There is more to life than bread.
This is what Lent is all about. In our gospel, the devil hoped to substitute God with a loaf of bread. What, in your life, has replaced God? Your career, self-image, newest iPhone, or perhaps your overwhelming schedule? Soren Kierkegaard once said, “If I were a physician, and if I were allowed to prescribe just one remedy for all the ills of the modern world, I would prescribe silence. For even if the Word of God were proclaimed in the modern world, how could one hear it with so much noise?” So, Lent brings us a profound freedom to step away and listen.
If you are looking for a good Lenten reading, you should consider Arthur Boers’ Living into Focus: Choosing What Matters in an Age of Distractions. This short book takes a candid look at our modern lifestyle. We have reached a standard of living far greater than anything fathomed in past generations. Yet, we are far from happy or fulfilled. “I meet a lot of folks,” he writes, “who are unhappy, stressed, and depressed…our lives are marked by ‘pathological busyness, distraction, and restlessness…” According to statistics, North Americans are working more and more hours. The modern life feels like a frenzied rat race. Every culture has it’s own spiritual challenge. Could ours be our addiction to technology, to noise, or perhaps our endless busyness?
Is there a solution? Boers suggests we re-examine our focal points. That is a fancy way of saying: be deliberate about your priorities and focuses. In the past, the fireplace was a focal point of every home. It was a place to gather and interact by playing games, talking, or just sitting together in peaceful silence. Today, the fireplace has been replaced by a television set. Ten years ago, going on a walk meant watching the sunset or the birds in the trees. Today, it means playing Pokémon Go. Instead of using technology, we are used by technology.
There’s an old fashioned word called ‘idolatry.’ Nowadays, we usually think of figurines of Zeus or Baal. However, idolatry simply means loving anything more than God. St. Paul described the enemies of God as those who “exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator” (Romans 1:25). The Psalms say our idols “have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see: and ears, but do not hear,” and those who make and trust these idols become like them, dumb and blind (Ps. 115:5-8). “Idolatry,” Arthur Boers suggests, “is a problem of directing reverence and regard in the wrong direction…We easily spend too long looking the wrong way at the wrong things…Our lives are shaped by our focus.” What are your habits? What is the first thing you notice when you walk in your house? Is it an icon of our Lord and Savior or is it a television set? What is the last thing you do before going to bed? Do you check the news or your Facebook profile, or do you light a candle and say a prayer. Do you spend more time worrying about tomorrow or praying in the moment at hand? Do your values determine your schedule, or does your schedule dictate your values?
Lent is a spiritual detox. We do not all have to go out to the desert or meditate in a cave. Perhaps, we simply need to shut off the television set and go on a walk. Through this season, the Church has holy work for us to do: to spend more time fasting, praying, giving alms and simply sitting in silence and wonder. We must not think of this as mere obligation. Rather, this is our chance to find freedom. So what are your idols? Can you give them up and replace them with the sweet grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ?