Over the years I have fasted on two of the traditional days for fasting within the Christian year – Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. These are not meant as a way to facilitate weight control, another relevant issue for another day.
Fasting is a spiritual practice known to most of the major world religions. Some, like me, practice it as a part of a larger religious story. Others fast as they feel it is needed, or schedule spiritual retreats where fasting plays a part. In many traditions fasting is connected with repentance or to make a non-violent moral statement.
Why? What’s it about?
My daughter has asked me about it through the years, usually as my periodic fasting has interrupted some dinner plans. “You’re not eating? Well that’s a fine how do you do!” I’ve tried to explain the purposes of fasting and I thought she wasn’t listening. I just assumed that when I talked about the way that turning attention away from bodily needs may redirect us to other levels of consciousness she wasn’t paying attention. I was wrong.
This year, a couple of days in advance of Good Friday, she said, “So, you’re fasting on Friday?” I answered that I was. “Well then, I’ll join you.” That shut me up. She’s going to join me. “That would be wonderful,” said I. She obviously had been thinking about it already. “I’ve got my water supply ready. I’ll be drinking most of the day.” That’s good, so will I.
My Good Friday fast was spent mostly at home, in the quiet, electronic devises rationed as well. Certainly no TV. I read scripture, some spiritual writers, worked on my Easter sermon and wrote some Wednesday Wonders. What I noticed was a certain alertness I usually lacked, and maybe a quietude. It works, especially when one accepts it and expects something from it. Redirecting hunger is a good thing. Some things can be sublimated for very good purposes.
Daughter calls: “How’s your fast going?” Fine, thank you, and yours? “I’m not even wanting food. No problem, I’ll break it in the morning.”
After the Good Friday service she corners me. “It’s strange, I’m not hungry and I’m sitting quiet more. I put the Bible by my computer, the one I received for my baptism. I’ve been reading Psalms. They are awesome.” This I’ve never heard from her, though she’s an every Sunday worshiper. Was it the fast? Or an intention that made the fast important? Or a connection with doing spiritual things?
Tomorrow, in the early hours of Holy Saturday, I will break the fast. I will take into myself the good things of the earth that we need to exist. I will enjoy their flavors and be more aware of each bite and the thanksgiving I have for it.
Don’t ask me if I lost a few pounds because I don’t know, I didn’t weigh. But do ask me if a practice this ancient is still relevant today. No, ask my daughter. She’ll be more fun.