02 Jun Fasting to Stand in Solidarity
Giving, praying and fasting: these are the three religious practices Jesus specifically addresses in the Sermon on the Mount. Over the last couple of weeks, we’ve explored the first two. Finally, we get to the last of the three, fasting.
In many parts of the evangelical and mainline Protestant Church, fasting has all but disappeared from our common life. To their credit, Roman Catholics seem to have done a better job of holding on to this tradition, and I’m grateful for that. I imagine a church historian somewhere could tell me why fasting fell out of favor and failed to garner its share of recognition and practice alongside giving and praying. But, whatever the reason(s), I’d like to suggest that we have been poorer in faith because of it.
Within the context of religious practice fasting is quite simply the abstinence from food for the sake of a religious purpose. We choose to forego food in order to pray, give, meditate or seek God in some specific way for a particular purpose. When you think about it, all three of the spiritual disciplines that Jesus talks about involve giving up something (money, time or food) in order to focus more intentionally on one’s relationship with God. In other words, all of them require sacrifice on our part. And, the sacrifice is to be made without fanfare, without drawing attention to ourselves so that we can center ourselves on God.
There is nothing quite like a rumbling belly that acts as an alarm clock reminding me to pray (or meditate or whatever practice I’m pursuing in place of eating.) There is an insistence to it, an ever-growing intensity that calls me to think beyond mundane necessities like sustenance to consider larger concerns. The truth is that I regularly need this kind of prodding. Without spiritual disciplines like giving, praying and fasting, I would be entirely absorbed in my own life, forgetting and failing to make significant sacrifices for the common good. My uncomfortable stomach reminds me, for example, of the inequities in the distribution of the world’s resources. Fasting is one concrete way in which I stand in solidarity with those who will not eat either, not out of choice but because they have no food and no means to get it. The plight of the poor and hungry becomes more real and less invisible when I go without food for a day.
There are various ways to apply the concept of fasting that can speak meaningfully to our contemporary lives. In addition to fasting from food, embarking on a “media fast” has significant spiritual potential, in part because it forces us to confront one of our most powerful idols. How often have we said, “I don’t have time to…..pray, go to church, serve at the soup kitchen, visit my elderly aunt, [fill in the blank]”? Yet, we spend loads of time on Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the like. We have time to text, email, watch videos and peruse an endless array of “apps”. Our noses are seemingly never out of our devices, yet we resent the notion that Jesus asks for our time, attention and sacrifice in order to develop a deep and abiding relationship with him. Isn’t it ironic that Jesus offers us connection to the very source of our being, yet we so often prefer instead to be “connected” in much more shallow, less meaningful ways? Fasting, like giving and praying, helps us see our own hypocrisy with greater clarity—which, come to think of it, might be why we go to such lengths to avoid these spiritual disciplines.
Still, Jesus’ invitation is hard to ignore for long. As Peter said, ultimately, we have no one else to whom we can turn, for Jesus alone has “the words of eternal life.” (John 6:68) If I really want to hear those words, then giving, praying and fasting become sacrifices I make eagerly, with joy and gratitude.
Yours for the Kingdom,