Keep a True Lent, by Charles Fillmore, , at sacred-texts.com
THE CHRISTIAN world is once again observing the Lenten season; the season of prayer and fasting that precedes the joyous festivity of Easter. It is commonly believed that the Lenten period has to do with the events of the forty days preceding the Resurrection. This is an erroneous idea. Lent is a church institution, and there is no authorization for it anywhere in the New Testament. The idea, however, has a sound spiritual basis; Moses, Elijah, and Jesus Himself set a precedent for it. Each observed a forty-day period of prayer and fasting as a preparation for spiritual work. Moses received the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai at the conclusion of his fast. Elijah talked with God on Mount Horeb at the conclusion of his period of prayer and fasting. Jesus began His great spiritual ministry at the close of His fast in the wilderness.
The ancient Hebrew writers made a practice of using numbers to symbolize ideas. Forty, in their minds, was a "foursquare" number suggesting the idea of a foundation for something to follow; an idea of completeness. So the number forty is frequently used in the Scriptures to indicate a completed preparation for something to follow. When we consider Lent as a well-rounded or "completed" season of retreat from the things of the world for the cleansing of the mind and the recollection of the things of Spirit, it becomes a true season of preparation
for the glorious Eastertide; a preparation for the resurrection of the mind from the darkness of its sins, doubts, and false beliefs into the light of understanding.
Lent, then, is a church institution embodying an exalted idea, the idea of cleansing and disciplining both mind and body toward the end of making them more receptive to the Christ ideas. Like many other religious practices it is too often observed in letter but not in spirit.
Too many people make a fad out of Lent. It is fashionable to give up some luxuries, and when those luxuries have to do with food and drink it is profitable physically. There is also psychological value in the mental discipline involved. But such observance has nothing to do with being a Christian; atheists could get the same benefit!
Every follower of Jesus who would keep Lent in the true Christian spirit follows the way of prayer and fasting that He taught His disciples. He revealed that prayer and fasting are the sure way to spiritual power, the way to keep the soul cleansed and purified that it may feel the presence of God. When the disciples were unable to heal the epileptic boy He told them that they lacked faith, that such healings could only be brought about by prayer and fasting.
Jesus revealed that fasting, like prayer, is a matter between man and his Maker. He told His disciples that they were to make no show of their fasting.
He said, "Appear not unto men to fast, but unto thy Father which is in secret: and thy Father, which seeth in secret, shall reward thee openly." He gave the same instruction concerning prayer. Prayer and fasting, then, are matters of communion with God, not matters of public display. They are transactions in mind. It is of no use to go through the outer form if the feeling of communion with God is not established. In abstinence from worldly things the mind must be filled with thoughts of God, else there is no spiritual value in fasting.
If we would "lose the bands of wickedness" we must learn to fast from all unworthy thought and feast on the good and the true. To observe Lent according to the spirit rather than the letter we must fast from criticism and condemnation and feast in brotherly love; fast from false beliefs in sickness and weakness and feast on the truth of God's omnipresent, perfect life; fast from false beliefs in lack and limitation and feast on the truth of God's bountiful good will. Ideas such as these form an excellent basis for Lenten meditations that help establish permanent spiritual values in heart and mind.
One of the most valuable ways of observing the Lenten season is to fast from (loose and let go) the belief that men or nations can stand in the way of God's good will for man. Now is the time to affirm the power of the Christ Spirit indwelling in all men everywhere and influencing their thoughts, words, and actions to work for the good of the whole. We
all want to be of some influence in establishing world peace. To do so we must learn to obey Paul's exhortation "Let us therefore follow after the things which make for peace." Each one of us must be concerned with improving his own life. We must learn to deny our selfish impulses and be obedient to impulses of brotherly love. When we withdraw our attention, interest, and support from the false and the unworthy, this is true fasting. When we give that same attention, interest, and support to the enduring good, we are feasting on the things of the Spirit, and this is true prayer. When we have truly fasted in the Christ way we have increased our ability to respond to God's good will.
--Georgiana Tree West
PUBLISHER'S NOTE--Some Unity students will note that they have previously read some of the material in "Keep A True Lent." Some of the material in this book originally appeared in Unity magazine and portions of it may be found in other books by Charles Fillmore. The material was assembled in this manner in order that this book would offer the reader a well-rounded course of study during Lent.