And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has regarded the low estate of his handmaiden…
He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.
He has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”

Have you ever felt too full? After Thanksgiving dinner, perhaps? Or a celebratory dinner out, with steak, potatoes, salad, drinks, dessert? Afterward, it’s uncomfortable…bloated, gorged, stretched too far; there may be satisfied moans, but also oaths to never eat again.

And yet, of course, I always eat again, and usually too soon. I’ve tried fasting, once or twice, in different ways, usually during Lent; I rarely felt that I was getting the point of it. Give up chocolate? I should do that anyway. Fast for entire meals? Why give up something good? I would read about fasting as spiritual discipline, and feel like I should connect with it somehow, but it never clicked.

Perhaps you know I knit. … A lot. Perhaps you can imagine I own a bit of yarn. I love my yarn stash; it is both deep and wide, and it has been well fed and tended. I can knit sweaters from my stash. …Several sweaters. I could knit lace shawls for every one of you who read this, from my stash. I could knit you all hats. …And possibly mittens.

Some of my stash is from local yarn shops, either near here or “souvenir yarn” from trips. Some is from fiber fests, Yarn Con, Stitches Midwest. Some was bought online. A bit is from swaps, gifts, trades with other knitters. All of it arrived surrounded in hope and potential, with me full of love and dreams for what it would become. Ahh, this will be a gift for a dear friend! for a family member! This skein will keep someone’s hands warm, this one will be draped softly around a neck, this one will combine with these others in glorious color as a hat. Or socks. Or slippers. A blanket. Another blanket. How much time do I think I have to knit, anyway?

In a good year, I might crank out two or three large lace pieces, a sweater or two, several socks, some mittens, three or four hats. I have started a blanket which lays dormant in a bin in the basement. An unfinished sweater keeps it company. And, to be honest, so does most of the yarn I’ve bought over the past three years. It turns out I can buy yarn much faster than I can knit it up.

The purpose of the stash is to feed my knitting…but somewhere along the line, the tables turned. I realized my knitting had come to serve to feed my stash. I would fall in love with a yarn (or two, or three), buy it in sheer joy, bring it home…and put it in a bin in the basement, with the rest of it all. Dimly, I was aware that every new skein I brought home only pushed the previous skeins deeper into the black hole of my stash. And still, the shops and websites and limited-only yarn sales called and beckoned and woke me and drew my gaze.

I’m not sure what the final trigger was, but I put myself on a yarn fast. It was hard at first; the websites still teased; the emails tempted. There’s scads of beautiful wool out there, folks; you have no idea. But with a bit of time, it was easier to look away, to click delete, to walk past. And when I stopped being distracted by the call of the new, I could slowly begin to remember and realize what I already have: an embarrassment of excellent yarn…and worthy activities besides knitting. The frantic cravings ease. Perspective returns, slowly.

Juan Huertas writes here http://spiritstirrer.org/2010/12/17/leading-into-the-unknown/ about fasting from numbers, and how it freed him from preoccupation with the count of attendance, offering, and other countable things about the worship services he leads, and allowed him to better see the people themselves. I begin to see how fasting is not about “giving up” a thing, or about whether that thing be “good” or “bad”. It is about getting the distracting things out of the way, so we can see the important things.

In our Advent Cantata this morning, we sang the words of the Magnificat. Suddenly, Mary’s joyful declaration that “the rich he has sent empty away” no longer seems punitive – could it be that this is the one thing the rich need most? A relief from being overstuffed – a rest from the preoccupation with more, with numbers, with how much and what next – a freedom from the bondage of wealth. A fast, which can, God willing, let us again see what God’s will really is.

Merciful, magnificent God, empty us. May Advent be for us a time of emptiness, of emptying, so that we may make space to be filled with your good things.

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