F is for Fasting (an alphabet for penitents)

Fasting confronts our contemporary, consumerist mindset. We don’t generally do it unless we are doing a juice fast detox or getting a colonoscopy. Lent is an exception. It is a season for fasting and many of us have given up something as part of our Lenten practice. Chocolate, cookies, sweets, Facebook or whatever. Six weeks long we lay aside the things that we go to for comfort or to numb our senses. We focus our hearts and energy on Jesus’ road to the cross. While it may be a struggle for us to not eat ice cream or meat but it won’t kill us. If we did one of those real serious fasts, like giving up all food or all food and water,for the six weeks of Lent, we’d be dead.

But what is fasting and why do we do it? To make God love us? To impress Him? Jesus doesn’t love us any more or less if you aren’t watching Netflix and dying on a cross is way more impressive than even six weeks sans coffee. So why? I think of a couple of things that fasting does at a fundamental level. First, fasting (any kind) interrupts our normal routine and enables us to see things in a new light. Second, fasting reveals our appetites.  When we purposely deprive ourselves of something, we grow more conscious of our desire for it, but we were also freed up to ask “what is this _____ feeding in me?” “What ways does this food or activity numb me to reality?”

There is a real benefit to fasting, but you can interrupt your routines, be self-aware of your appetites and still fail to please God with your fast. Isaiah 58: 5 says:

Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

The  kind of fast pleasing to God is this:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness[a] will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. (Isaiah 58:6-8)

I shared in an earlier post that I went vegan for Lent and that part of my fast includes paying attention to ways my appetite for animal flesh has made me complicit in injustice (i.e. animal cruelty, the drain on earth’s resources, pollution from animal waste). Fasting can make us aware of not only our own appetites but the ways your routines cause us to turn a blind eye to justice.

Whatever you are fasting from, use it as a window to see injustice. If you gave up chocolate you could consider how much of the world’s chocolate is gathered unethically (i.e. use of child labor). Coffee? Think about thinking about rainforest destruction and poor pay for coffee growers (there is more fair-trade, shade-grown options these days, but these just highlight the scope of the environmental impact of our consumption).  Did you give up Facebook? Consider the ways social media detracts from real-time relationships and make yourself more aware of the neglected folks in your own neighborhood.

We gave stuff up, our routines are disrupted. We are aware of our appetites and the things that we go to to fill the dull ache within. But God is pleased when the act of fasting brings to fruition repentance and justice. Fasting can make us more aware and able to respond to a suffering world. May the fruit of justice grow in us.



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