“When you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites. They neglect their appearance, so that they may appear to others to be fasting. Amen, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, so that you may not appear to be fasting, except to your Father who is hidden. And your Father who sees what is hidden will repay you.” - Matthew 6:16-18For reflection...
"Mom," said my nine year old, "what if I gave up something for Lent that I don't like anyway?"
We have to grapple with the purpose of fasting. What exactly is the point of giving something up, whether it's food or video games -- which my son is choosing instead of, say, coffee -- or sweets or Facebook?
Fasting from food, as many do on Ash Wednesday or Good Friday is, of course, an ancient spiritual practice in many traditions. It clears the body and, some say, the mind. Perhaps it helps us to identify with the poor. For me, it saves time -- no meals to cook and clean up after. There are risks -- I'm sometimes cranky when I'm hungry -- but it does make me more mindful.
When I give up something I'm used to having, I have to pay attention. I can't just reach for a piece of chocolate or a hamburger or the remote control. I have to think about it. It creates a pause in my day that would otherwise be lacking.
And what do I think in the pause? Sometimes it's, "Oh. I made a commitment, and I need to keep it." Other times it's more like, "Wow. I want that. This stinks." Then, especially then, I have to consider why I made the commitment in the first place.
I fast because I'm generally undisciplined. Most of the time, I do what I want, when I want, and don't look back. I have everything I could ever want or need, and yet, often enough, I still want more. I don't notice what I have, only what I don't. So when I say a voluntary, no, to having something, I notice it.
I notice other things too. I notice that my stomach doesn't feel so uncomfortably full, and I don't feel that sugar rush-and-crash, or the caffeine buzz-and-dive. I notice that I have more time to clean the house or walk the dog. Maybe you notice that you've only been socializing with the other smokers in the office, because you always take your break outside with them. That it's hard to be intimate with your spouse without that second beer or glass of wine. That you sleep better at night when your head's not buzzing with the latest episode of Modern Family.
It's not that all those things we might fast from are so very bad. It's that they cease to be a choice for us. They are what we do, almost unconsciously. I live a life that bumps along without anyone in the driver's seat, not even me.
Fasting is like a string tied around my finger. In and of itself, it may be useless, but it points me to something else. It reminds me to pay attention to my own life.
For entering in...
- Find a quiet place to be. Spend a few moments becoming present to yourself. Notice how it feels to be in your body, in this place, at this time.
- Even if you're not sure there's anyone listening, invite God to be present with you.
- Reflect on these questions:
- Have you ever fasted? From what? Why did you do so? Because it was part of your faith tradition or spiritual practice, or for some other reason?
- What was it like for you, if you have practiced fasting? What, if anything, was difficult? Easy?
- If you've never fasted, are you willing to experiment? What do you see as the risks? The potential rewards?
- Become quiet, and ask yourself, "What might I be called to fast from today? What do I do that has become so automatic I don't even know I'm doing it?"
- If you choose to fast, be ready for the pause when you come up against your voluntary no. How does it feel to be in that space?