Tumbling in the Sand
Today was my first “fast” day. It had been a long time since I had fasted last—mostly, I stopped when I started having food issues (I developed an intolerance to egg a long while back) and then gave up meat pretty well full time. I figured that my life was really pretty centered around diet and food and that fasting wouldn’t really help me think about much more than I think about most days of the week. However, I thought I’d give it a try again.
It wasn’t a particularly great experience. I mean, it’s not like my past experiences with fasting were somehow nirvana-esque trips or anything, but this day was pretty bad. I tried to focus on prayer a bit more when I felt hungry, but mostly just felt hungry … and wondered about the health benefits of fasting. I thought a bit about how fortunate I was that I had a choice about being hungry or not, unlike so many in this world … but, I pretty quickly fell back into thinking how exhausted I was.
I broke my fast early—as the sun set, rather than waiting until the morning as I had done in the past. As I waited for it to get dark, my wonderful husband commented, “You’d be better off fasting during Advent. The days are shorter.” He had a point.
I’m not sure I will try to fast again this Lent. We shall see. If I do fast again, I think I need a clearer reason for doing so. I was doing some reading about fasting (since I could find little energy to do much else) and learned some interesting things about fasting.
First of all, that most people want fasting to have some sort of instrumental effect—as though we fast to get some particular result. But, that’s not a very Biblical view of fasting, rather a responsive fast is far more biblical (and so read, perhaps, faithful). A responsive fast would be to fast out of repentance for sins, or out of mourning for the loss of someone or something. A responsive fast doesn’t necessarily have a goal in mind (though it might have a hope), but it certainly has an initial motivator to cause the fasting. So, maybe if I had been fasting out of repentance for particular sins, or out of mourning for the children who die every day from hunger in this world, I might have had a more faithful fasting experience.
The second thing I learned is that it could be possible to broaden the definition of fasting to “removing something habitual to experience something new.” This is helpful for those of us who have already got a tonne of baggage surrounding food. But, the part that interested me the most was the possibility of experiencing something new. This makes me wonder about whether making fasting something that is done out of habit or expectation would flatten it’s value a bit. Perhaps it is better to fast in the wildernesses of our lives so that we can hear anew, but forcing it into “well it’s Lent now…” might sort of defeat the point a bit.
The third thing I learned about fasting was how awesome Orthodox Christians’ views of fasting are. They understand that “when people’s eating is right their spirits can be more open to God and more attentive to all that is good, true, and beautiful in life.” And so, their fasting tends to be geared in a different kind of way. I love this cookbook I just learned about called: When You Fast … Recipes for Lenten Seasons, which is about fasting not as deprivation, but fasting as deep satisfaction and joy. The article that I was reading (The Why and How of Fasting by Rachel Marie Stone) asks the question: What if fasting itself can be a pleasurable and joyful experience?
The final thing I learned was a great word I shall take deeply to heart, because I occasionally struggle with it: orthorexia—which is “the pathological obsession with ‘correct’ eating.” As someone who can become paralyzed in the grocery store deciding between the local, the organic, the least packaged or the most “affordable” option, I needed to be reminded of this word and that the point of all of this is finally not to get it right, but to grow in love of God and love of our neighbor. And so, I’ll finish with this perfect story about a truly faithful spirit of fasting (from the article mentioned above):
I’ve sat at more than one table where folk’s intense predilection for certain foods destroyed whatever fellowship remained after Grace was said. A fond and lasting memory: In my tradition (Eastern Orthodox) we strive to fast from meat and other items during Lent. At a potluck following a service, a visitor brought in a huge pile of homemade fried chicken. As a newcomer myself, I was wondering how folks would react to the visitor’s gift. I was impressed when the pastor helped himself to a thigh and, after smacking his lips, thanked the young man for participating in such a meaningful way.
So, there it is, I suppose. May all my practice and struggle, all my prayer and praise, and all that I do teach me this law of love, a far higher and better “spiritual discipline” than any fast could impose.