Wednesday, March 30, 2011

On Fasting

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?  Isaiah 58:6

The boys recently asked me if we could do some sort of fast during Holy Week.  I was surprised.  We had been talking about Ramadan and I had mentioned that fasting (though few people actually do it these days) is also a part of the Christian tradition.  These days we like big meals on our holidays.  Displays of excess are meant to show our joy or, at least, our wealth. They thought it would be a nice lead-up to Easter if we took a little time to deprive ourselves.

This morning I read a column by Mark Bittman.  Turns out he is fasting this week as part of a Bread for the World campaign to draw attention to what proposed congressional budget cuts will do to the marginally-fed people both in this country and abroad.  It underscores, for me, an issue that I have found infuriating about the "national austerity" language politicians are throwing around these days.  The folks who talk about belt-tightening no doubt feel they are making some sort of sacrifice--maybe one fewer ski trips next year--but the kids still have their own cars to drive themselve to Yale, Harvard, and Sarah Lawrence (or whatever).  Meanwhile the ones who make the actual sacrifices are pretty much ignored.

I cannot take this fast this week because a) I just heard about it today and b) I just (like today) turned the big 4-0 and there are some culinary requirements to be made of me.  Besides, the donut I am eating right now is all that stands between me and the stereotypical existential crisis that strikes Americans during this sensitive time.  However, I am planning to honor my sons' request and Bittman has helped me to refine my thinking on the subject. 

So here are the (or my) reasons to fast this Good Friday...

1) It makes us think about God.  In particular, it makes us think about the Holy Week story.    Holy Week is a reflective time, meant to make us consider some big-picture questions about our lives and our relationships.  Good Friday may be a great day for picking up those Cadbury eggs but the party is on Easter.  The joy of Easter comes from surviving hard times--times of famine--before the happy times.  There is no resurrection without death.  While a brief fast is nothing like crucifixion, it does remind us of (and allows us to participate in) the actual "reason for the season".

2) It makes us think about the suffering of others.  Yeah, cheerful thought, I know.  However, the fact is that Bittman and his friends are right.  There is a great deal going on in the world that our Burbanian minds blithely skip over on our way to the kids' soccer practice.  What if, for just a short time, we stood in solidarity with them.  What if the fast we chose was their reality?  That word "their" encompasses a large portion of humanity, including many Americans who can expect life to become much more difficult in the near future.  The fact that they will also be blamed for their own difficulties by many powerful people is one more reason to stand with them.

3) It makes us reconsider how we live.  I am big into this "considering how we live" business.  It is a continuous theme in my sermons during Lent.  I am sure some church members would say it is a theme all the time.  It was the original purpose of this blog. 

The fast Isaiah chose at the beginning of my post was to "loose the chains of injustice".  There is quite a bit more to that than sincere thoughts when the subject comes up, sending money to faraway places, and voting.  Our cars, our homes and our diets (how, what and where we purchase) contribute to the national and international unequal distribution of food and wealth.  We have sinned, people.  We are guilty of other people's pain.  Fasting gives us time to meditate on that important and unavoidable (if unpleasant) fact.

4) It puts us in touch with God.  Yes, I know I already wrote this but it needs to be repeated.  When we are hungry we are in touch with the hungry people of the  world--God's people.  We are in touch with a suffering God in the midst of God's own creation.  We are reminded that there is something bigger and more important than the commute, or the meeting, or the contract, or the petty fights we have with both loved ones and  strangers.  Holy Week--including Palm Sunday and Easter--is the holiest time in the Christian faith (hence the name).  Fasting reminds us of this spiritual ground.

I looked online for some fasting plans.  The Catholic Good Friday fast (according to at least one sight) is one meal and two snacks.  The kids think this is cheating.  Like skipping lunch and calling it virtue.  I suspect we will come up with a compromise position.  Right now I am thinking of dragging them to Maundy Thursday Communion and fasting from that point until dinner on Friday.  They are kids, so they will get liquids and perhaps some sort of light breakfast...and a fruit-break.  I don't want them getting all grouchy, after all...

I would love to know what others do, if anything.  I would love it, too, if folks joined us.

Here is a link to Mark Bittman's article

Here is a link to Bread for the World

Here is a link to the farm where we get our CSA share.  Our buying group takes turns picking up in Framingham and then leaving the food on the parsonage porch.  If your fasting leads you to some sort of action and you are in the area, feel free to join our group.  It is open to anyone for whom it works.

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