When you withdraw into the desert, Christ,
you refrain from food and drink,
you distance yourself from the many good things
of this creation, given by the hand of God.
What is the purpose of this renunciation,
this stepping-back and withdrawal?
It is the opening up of space
for a deeper reception of the gift,
an expansion of the heart, inward and outward,
to overflow in greater love.
And for us, in this broken but beautiful nature
which we have received from our parents,
it is also a return, a gathering-together
into the realm of pure gift
for which, so lovingly, we have been made.
In the Garden of Eden in the beginning
our first parents fell through reaching out for food.
Pleasing to the eyes,
good for eating,
and desirable for gaining wisdom:
this is what they saw.
Eyes begin to look with possessiveness,
flesh grasps out for pleasure
(divorced from the deeper beauty in which it lies),
and the heart is drawn toward “wisdom”
which is sought, not in childlike dependency,
but in autonomy and self-determination,
in a sovereign knowledge which can
“go-it-alone” without turning to the Father,
who is seen, no longer, as the Father that he is,
but as a Lawgiver, Judge, and inaccessible Standard.
To turn back from this fragmenting
movement of the fallen flesh,
this disordered groping towards
the multiplicity of partial streams
divorced from the wellspring
from which they flow:
this is what true fasting means.
As Satan won the victory
through offering forbidden food,
so the victory is won over Satan
through the weaning-away
of this false maturity,
becoming again a child.
What a wonder,
to drink from the Heart of God
as a little infant,
one is first weaned from other food,
yet not to go hungry or thirsty,
but to find the Gift of Love
in each and every thing, renewed.
And this is not a “heroic feat,”
a battle with arms of earthly might.
No, fasting itself (in all its forms)
finds its ultimate meaning,
not in itself, but in a deeper truth,
in the mystery of the whole Christian life,
in the intimacy of love and relationship,
in binding together again the bonds
that have been broken in sin.
For to step into the footsteps of Christ your Son,
following him into the desert,
walking the dusty roads of this world,
and accompanying him through the Cross
and unto the perfect joy of Resurrection
—this is a school of dependency,
where the simplicity and need of childhood
is again relearned.
To trust again in your goodness, Father,
allowing you to show us
that you provide for our every need.
Weaned from cares and worries,
from fear and the need to control.
Weaned, indeed, from the burdened sense
of heavy responsibility
by rediscovery of the gift
that each and every moment is.
Weaned from the possessive grasping
which does not liberate or console,
but enslaves a child to so many things
when we have been created for perfect liberty.
Yet freedom is found, Father,
not through our own effort and striving,
but through your gentle, guiding hand.
This is why it is a school,
not so much of self-mastery or virtue,
but of dependency, childlike reliance in everything.
In this reliance is found true freedom,
the liberty which we seek in false autonomy.
In this open-handedness is found true wealth,
the abundance we seek in possessive grasping.
In this chaste and holy love,
inflamed with desire for your infinite beauty,
is found the passionate joy and intimacy
which we wrongly seek in partial encounter.
Return to the dimension of gift
in which you created us in the beginning:
children enfolded in the pure, gratuitous love
of the most tender of all Fathers,
receiving all things, unreservedly,
from your loving hands,
and giving ourselves back to you, joyfully,
in the spontaneous movement
of love responding to Love.
This movement, so wonderful, so beautiful,
is not really a matter of “ascending”
into a state beyond what we are,
but of descending into our deepest truth,
relaxing into the blessed reliance
from which we so feverishly try to flee.
A son or daughter is worry-free and full of playfulness
precisely because they leave all concern to their Father.
Even when the are given responsibilities
they know that the outcome lies within his hands.
If they have been loved freely,
they can freely embrace whatever they receive
as a mere extension and expression of this love,
which has enfolded them from their earliest days
and accompanies them at every moment still.