The School of Fasting

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The School of Fasting

It was the year that I gave up coffee for Lent. I was working as our church’s Director of Children’s Ministries and the kids and I were discussing what it means to fast--should we give something up, should we take on something new? When the children found out that I had sacrificed coffee, they did what children do. They tortured me. For forty days. I never knew grade-schoolers could be so persistent.

The publicity that my small sacrifice garnered filled me with despair. This was not how it was supposed to be. I knew very little about fasting—it was never addressed in my religious training—but I did know that it was not supposed to be a public display. Besides, could I call denying the self of coffee a fast? I wasn’t sure. It didn’t seem quite…holy enough. But the thought of going an extended period of time without food? Up until this point in my life, I had to agree with LaVonne Neff.

Fasting isn’t my thing. First, I really like to eat. Second, hunger gives me migraines, not mystical experiences. Third, my religious history makes fasting difficult...I began wondering if maybe I shouldn’t enjoy food quite so much. This was a troubling thought for one whose life text is Ecclesiastes 5:18: “It is fitting to eat and drink and find enjoyment in all the toil with which on toils under the sun.”(My (Self- Righteous) Food Stamp Fast)

Until I started teaching the children I hadn’t given a second thought to fasting. It just wasn’t part of my vernacular.

The body and soul formulation was not something that I had ever taken seriously. As a lifelong, devout Protestant, I had thought a great deal about my soul. As an American, I had obsessed a great deal about my body. But I had rarely considered body and soul in mutual relation… (Amy Frykholm, Fasting Toward Home)

But teaching does a funny thing. It makes the teacher a student. I started reading about fasting and was intrigued by the spiritual implications.

There was something about this fast that seemed as though it had the capacity to be truly transformative. It was an act both individual and corporate, but rather than a simple outward direction…this fast was also relentlessly inward. I realized then that the discipline of fasting is a tangible, visceral reminder that we, ourselves, are probably the greatest obstacles to change that we are going to encounter. But when done in community, it can strengthen both our individual resolve and the bonds between the faithful. And it can bring the presence of God and the experience of his nearness closer than any other expression of faith I can imagine. (Caroline Langston, The Joy of the Fast)

Could it be that fasting is about more than self-denial? I was told to meditate on Christ when my body craves that which I have given up—to think about his sacrifice. Could it be that there are deeper places to go with this fasting thing?

Everywhere I went in Russia as an exchange student—and I was drawn instinctively to churches—I witnessed a fuller understanding of the body and soul in communion…In the Orthodox churches I visited, I observed a sensuality of worship: smells, sights, sounds, beautiful colors and sensation, as if the whole self were being invited into delight. I had always thought that the truest worship happened deep inside the self, a place best reached, perhaps, by shutting down the senses. This other, fully participatory worship was strange to me, and my body did not know how to respond…Was fasting, I wondered, a form of nourishment? Was it related in some way that I couldn’t quite grasp to hospitality? (Amy Frykholm, Fasting Toward Home)

These questions are better left for each to answer on his or her own. The school of fasting seems to yield highly personalized study. As LaVonne Neff points out,what counts is not giving up things, but giving of oneself…

I’ll leave you with the scripture she quotes in her essay:

Is not this the fast I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry…? Then you shall call, and the Lord will answer; you shall cry for help, and he will say, Here I am. (Isaiah 58:4, 6-7, 9)  

As a special treat, Laity Lodge’s Executive Chef, Tim Blanks, will be sharing some of his recipes with us during our book club discussions. Thanks, Tim! Enjoy!

Watermelon Salsa

Try this one this summer when you grill some meat--say chicken, pork, some sea food-- shrimp or Red snapper--it is up to you! My wife Amy loves this one.

2 cups watermelon, seeded and diced fine

1 Granny smith apple, diced fine

1 red onion diced fine

1 mango, diced fine

2 jalapenos, seeded and diced fine

1 bunch of cilantro, leaves only

2 tablespoons sugar

Salt and pepper to taste

2 limes, juice only

Splash of rice wine vinegar  

Combine all ingredients and chill well

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This is week six of our book club discussion on The Spirit of Food: 34 Writers on Feasting and Fasting toward God, edited by Leslie Leyland Fields. Join us every Monday morning as we dig into this feast! Next week we discuss two more of these lovely essays: This Is My Body and Famine.

Photo by Todd Anthony used with permission via Flickr. Post by Laura Boggess, author of the Wings of Klaio series.