Friday is coming, and I’m a little bit scared. It’s not Friday the 13th; no, that was last week. It’s Friday the Fasting Day. What was I thinking scheduling a fast for folks in the church?!
In the spring, I led a class on Lauren Winner’s book Mudhouse Sabbath. In her book, she examines Jewish practices from her past in light of how they fit into our Christian tradition. The book has one whole, scary chapter on fasting, and I promised my class that the chapter was not just an idle concept. I promised them we’d visit it again during Lent.
So here we are to Lent, and Friday the Fasting Day is a meager two days away. And I’m a big mix of scared and excited. I’m scared for all the obvious reasons: a whole day of no food, no coffee, no chocolate. I’ve only fasted for doctor’s appointments and surgery before, and those were all over well before the lunch hour. Fasting Day is all day. All day.
So why do it? What’s the big deal about fasting anyway? Lauren Winner says, “Fasting is meant to take you, temporarily, out of the realm of the physical and focus your attention heavenward.” Um, super. Isn’t that what I do when I pray? Well, yes and no. We do focus heavenward during prayer, but prayer is often a finite period of time. A fast is all day. Have I mentioned that yet?
Most Presbyterians I know don’t do much in the way of fasting. We know the Catholics do, and perhaps the Lutherans and Episcopalians. At least sometimes. But how have we managed to take all those words, both in the Old and New Testaments that tell us to fast (from food! for a whole day!) and ignore them? I seem to have managed to do that pretty well for the last 34 years. But I don’t feel like I can ignore them anymore.
And yes, I am aware that I’m doing the exact opposite of how Jesus tells us to conduct our fasts in Matthew 6. My fasting should be secret, just between God and me. And I plan for my future fasts to be that way. But I’m being public with this one because I really want you to join me. To experience it and to talk about it and reflect on it. So if you fast on Friday, especially if it’s your first time (or first in a while), let me know how it goes. Don’t let my public fast be in vain!
I’ll leave you with a few more words from Lauren’s chapter on fasting:
“Even in this early relearning of fasting, I can begin to see that Jesus expects us to fast not because He is arbitrary or capricious or cruel, but because fasting does good work on both our bodies and our souls. One Jewish fasting manual instructs its readers to slow down during fast days, to accept that our bodies will not move and our synapses will not click and our brains will not process quite as quickly…The fast accomplishes a repositioning. When I am sated, it is easy to feel independent. When I am hungry, it is possible to remember where my dependence lies.”