Forty days

Forty days, Lord?  FORTY?

This brilliant set of images conveys something of what a forty day solitary fast might feel like.  The moments of delight, and sharp pangs, punctuating a long, gruelling, lonely, often boring, always bleak struggle.

FORTY days?

Before the bible’s most understated verse:  ‘He ate nothing during those [forty] days, and at the end of them he was hungry.’ (Luke 4.2)

Apparently 40 days is roughly the length of time it takes to establish a habit.  Or unestablish one.  So it’s forty days of CHOOSING to do a thing, forcing body and spirit to catch up with mind, or mind to catch up with body, or however it works.  Emphatically, it is not what comes naturally. Forty days of hunger does not come naturally.

A habit of unselfishness.  How does that start?  With daily choices for generosity?  Or of thankfulness.  Daily lists?

I don’t know – but maybe some sort of physical fast, physical act, physical choice helps make the struggle real outside of just my brain.  Helps force sinews which bend naturally towards self instead reach towards others, towards God.  Honestly, life as a single person trains those instincts towards myself       e.v.e.r.y.    s.i.n.g.l.e.   .d.a.y.    I relate so much to the sense of battle against this. And to its frequent failure.

I am not naturally formed for wisdom – but forty days of attempting choices for wisdom can at least start to shape me that way.  Suddenly 40 days doesn’t seem nearly enough.

Belatedly, for Epiphany

One calendar tells me that this week began with ‘Blue Monday’, the ‘most depressing day’ of the year, according to the alignment of the constellations of seasonal debt, failed new year resolutions and grey, freezing weather.

Another calendar making its presence known is counting down the weeks to the election in the spring, each week a new window opening onto another source of (it seems already) unnecessarily snarky debate.

I am told by the calendar of the Church of England that we hold on to  another season, Epiphany, for nearly two more weeks.

Epiphany.  “a sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality or essential meaning of something

In this time, with its headlines shrieking and its columnists (and yes, its bloggers) ruminating, I want perception and insight more than ever.  So I’m holding onto Epiphany for as long as I can.

But it comes with a kicker.  Insight is followed by transformation.

The magi followed a star – followed a hunch that this was going to be worth the journey – and found a baby, in whom they perceived the essential meaning of – well, everything.  The reality of the enormity of God’s love.

But then came another revelation.  A dream.  A dream of terror unleashed, of the cruelty of jealous rulers and the vulnerability of infants.

And they went back another way.

Insight, followed by a change of direction.

I long for insight.  That feels like an easy – a romantic, a poetic – longing to own up to.  Like the statue of the thinker, pondering eternally, brow furrowed enigmatically, chin resting, picturesque, on hand.  Frozen in bronze.


Changes of direction come less easily, though.  They’re more difficult to style out.  The justification and bluster, the embarrassment, could seem too much trouble –  maybe I’ll just push on in the same direction.

This Epiphany, give me not just insight, Lord, not just perspective, but courage, where I need it, to walk back another way.