Off the Wall Wednesday, 18th February, 2015
Today marks the beginning of a very special time for our Christian community in Fiji and around the world.
Ash Wednesday is the first day of the Christian season of Lent. For the next forty days, not including Sundays, Christians take part in a spiritual pilgrimage that mirrors the 40 year exodus of the Israelites through the wilderness to the promised land, the 40 days of fasting that Jesus underwent in the desert before beginning his ministry and reflect on their lives, their faith and journey of their Lord to Jerusalem, to a rousing welcome which turned to betrayal and rejection and ultimately a humiliating death on a cross, effecting God’s redemption of humanity.
The season of Lent culminates in Easter, marking not only the atoning death of Jesus but the resurrection of Christ as a symbol of everlasting life, of love conquering fear and evil and that the Kingdom of God is beyond the limited power of human politics, greed and pride.
The Lenten journey is an opportunity for a large portion of the Fijian population to undertake a spiritual transformation that will enable us to see the common things of earth, sky and sea with a new wonder and fresh joy. It will also enable us to see the presence of Jesus within ourselves and in the people who cross our path, however different they look, talk and think. We may think that such an attitude is too difficult to acquire but it is something that we can continuously ask for and desire.
Lent is a time for transforming ourselves, cleansing our bodies, our mind and our souls. It is a time to commit to transforming our country into a place of tolerance, respect, and understanding. Let us commit to transforming this world in to a new creation of justice, equality and respect for all God’s creatures.
For many Christians, the solemn season of Lent is about self-denial. Setting aside, in these six weeks leading up to Easter, something we value or enjoy becomes a means of honouring Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross.
For people struggling in the midst of poverty, self-denial is not a merely matter of choice. It is a lifestyle forced upon, not only during Lent but all year round.
Lent becomes a fitting time to reflect on age-old divisions between rich and poor – and on our duty to help uphold those whom circumstance has treated harshly.
As I passed the Sacred Heart Cathedral recently, I saw a banner about a Lenten project to raise funds to build accommodation for the poor. It is a reminder for those who have the luxury of being able to give something like meat, chocolate, kava, cigarettes or the like to put the money our self-denial will save to a good use for someone in need. Our attempts to improve our spiritual wellbeing can result in the physical wellbeing of another.
Going through some of the many thought provoking bible studies prepared for Christians during Lent I came across the following reflection of Jesus’ statement that “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”(John 10:10):
“What does it mean to have life fully and abundantly, or as this Greek word implies, life, “exceedingly abundantly, or beyond measure?” It might mean spending time with family, working in a rewarding job, helping others, or following a passion. Good health is essential to enjoying any of these things. Is a full and abundant life a luxury only the wealthy can afford? Research shows us that certain lifestyle choices can make a drastic difference in health – things like consuming fresh fruits and vegetables and getting enough physical activity. But even when those living in poverty want to make a healthy choice.”
“The cheapest calories are the most empty, offering refined carbs and high sugar content rather than antioxidants and disease-fighting nutrients. What this means is that our neighbours who struggle with poverty and hunger are also the ones who are disproportionately hit by obesity, diabetes, and other chronic diseases. They may be getting the calories they need to survive, but chances are they are not getting the ones they need to thrive. In order to get more calories per dollar, nourishment is sacrificed.”
In a country with an increasing appetite for fast food, from takeaways to canned fish and meat and instant noodles, we would do well to ask ourselves, “What can people of faith do to combat these trends of chronic disease and obesity that disproportionately plague those living in poverty?”
God calls us to full and abundant life, and Jesus said he came that this might be possible. Let’s all do our part to break the cycle of obesity, poor health and poverty so that this full and abundant life may be possible for all.
Perhaps, Fijian Christians can, in our individual period of self-denial we can also make Lent a family and community event and find ways that families and communities can work together to have a healthy life.
Parents, remember that you are your child’s best model. Ask them if they can think of ways to improve your family’s health. Select some suggestions and work together to implement them (walks after dinner or other physical activity that the whole family can do together), eating more fruit and vegetables, cooking together, or raiding the cupboard and replacing unhealthy foods with healthier options, less ‘screen’ time (and more activity time). Make a commitment together to become healthier.
I pray that this Lent we will not only become more spiritually healthy but also physically and socially healthy as well.