It’s sort of like the year of the rooster or year of the dog —
This Lent, it’s just just up and named itself.
Up and named itself the Lent of the Whale.
I tear up lettuce for a salad and all I can see is the spouting of that whale.
Light the Lenten candle, and there’s the shiny fin. Carry a heap of sheets to the wash in this well of arms and there’s the bulk of that whale. Struggle with my Lenten fast and it’s the stench of that bulk filling my nostrils.
I mean, for all my prayer marching this Lent, all this circling to break the walls of one thing separating me from holding fast to Him, it’s the dark back of that one lone whale that surfaced last June that I can’t stop thinking about this March.
There are pictures. Well, a few.
Mama was about green in that zodiac skimming murky waves.
She’d hunched over, keeping her head low as the ocean surged and ebbed and we bobbed hard. Hope sucked on a hunk of ginger root, eyes closed and focusing on some imaginary equilibrium. Now and then I’d sling a camera up, palely press the shutter. Mostly, I’d kept one eye on the shore, on solid land, half grinning over my tossing tummy, happy relieved that I’d married a land-lubber farmer and not a fisher man.
There were black oystercatchers, I remember that , their red beaks pointing up.
And there was this foul stench, right there off the water.
The boat guide pointed. I’d looked back at him, eyebrows raised. I know pigs. I know stink. But whales?
The captain nodded, eyes watching for the next blowhole to surface.
“When whales fast, they stink.”
All the tossing, everything, it all calms.
I watched for the whale.
“Four or five months of the year, the grey whale, she doesn’t eat at all.” He’s cut the engine, waiting, scanning.
He says it quiet, “When a whale fasts, it breaks down its fat stores. And that process, ketosis — it makes a whale stink.”
The zodiac rises and falls and I can feel it, this stilled inner calm:
When a whale fasts, it stinks.
When one fasts, breaks down all the fat of a life, the struggle and the stink of weak flesh, it might fill the nostrils.
The boat guide, he says that the grey whale turns over 50 acres of sediment during a season of feeding, drawing in this amphipod sediment that satisfies from the ocean bottom.
That is the thing: Food satisfies our hunger; fasting satisfies God’s heart.
And when the ache of our soul craves communion with our Savior more than consuming more stuff, our realest self – not our bodies, but our souls — feast on joy.
And God is satisfied.
We drift in closer, zodiac swaying.
The water wells, that flashing whale back about to surface, about to breathe.
Before He leaned close and breathed life into us, we were but that – a hollow hump, a hill of inanimate bulk. It’s only the breath of God that makes this dust dance. And when I fast, I lay out this mound of hollowness and ask Him to breathe Himself, food for my soul, into my God-starved emptiness.
“She’ll come up over there.” The captain had nodded out towards the west, towards the open ocean.
I’d tried to imagine months of fasting…
My anorexic soul, that keeps binging on this sugar-coated world, needs to fast from here and feast on Him. Why feed the flesh and fast the soul – instead of fasting the flesh and feasting the soul – and on God? I’m a soul, not a body, and souls can starve to death when it feasts only on this world.
Am I willing to break away to build my soul?
And the whale, she blows:
When a sinner fasts, it stinks.
It stinks to come to the fleshy end of yourself, to wring out your day and face it: how all your efforts at fasting, at being pure, at being good, amount to a mound of reeking mess.
And the stink of a struggling Lenten fast? This is the purifying of the bloated allusions of self — and fasting hold of the only Savior.
When we murmur, “God? In me, I can do nothing” — this is exactly the moment when God says He can now do something in us.
Each evening, the lighting the Lenten candles, head bowed low, the fragrance of amazing grace filling the house, filling me. The covering of the stench of all this sin.
And I may be coming up in to it, breaching into full air.
John Piper on Fasting:
“Fasting is peculiarly suited to glorify God.
It is fundamentally an offering of emptiness to God in hope. It is a sacrifice of need and hunger.
It says, by its very nature, “Father, I am empty, but you are full. I am hungry, but you are the Bread of Heaven. I am thirsty, but you are the Fountain of Life. I am weak, but you are strong. I am poor, but you are rich. I am foolish, but you are wise. I am broken, but you are whole. I am dying, but your steadfast love is better than life.”
When God sees this confession of need and this expression of trust, he acts, because the glory of his all-sufficient grace is at stake.
The final answer is that God rewards fasting because fasting expresses the cry of the heart that nothing on the earth can satisfy our souls besides God.
God must reward this cry because God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.
Every Wednesday, we Walk with Him, posting a spiritual practice that draws us nearer to His heart.To read the entire series of spiritual practices
The next 3 weeks, as we walk with Him towards Easter, might we consider: The Practice of Sacrifice. We look forward to your thoughts, stories, ideas….
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