Monday, April 13, 2009

FASTING - March 7, 2009

I am not a big fan of fasting. I tried it once, but only due to peer pressure. Eons ago, a pious person in my Bible study group decided it would be spiritually edifying to fast during an overnight retreat. I’m not talking eight or even twelve hours; no, twenty-four excruciating hours of gnawing emptiness—to help us focus on God.

Oh, I fasted, and survived, but my eyes were more on my tummy than on God. And I was so famished when it was time to “break fast,” that I ravenous gorged on donuts that a thoughtful Martha among us supplied. I learned two spiritual lessons from this rigorous discipline: 1. fasting is definitely not my mug of mocha, and 2. greasy pastries hit the empty tomb like a tub of rancid lard.

In Old Testament times, the Israelites engaged in fasting—laced with “attitude.” God sounds slightly sarcastic in the following response to the fasting of his Chosen People:

"The bottom line on your 'fast days' is profit. You drive your employees much too hard. You fast, but at the same time you bicker and fight. You fast, but you swing a mean fist. The kind of fasting you do won't get your prayers off the ground. Do you think this is the kind of fast day I'm after: a day to show off humility? To put on a pious long face and parade around solemnly in black? Do you call that fasting, a fast day that I, God, would like?” (Isaiah 58:3-5 The Message)

Actually, God sounds A LOT sarcastic—and angry. I think these are good words to keep in mind if fasting for Lent, whether for extended hours, or in refraining from chocolate, pop, alcohol, or some other addictive substance or activity.

If you’re primarily giving up desserts just so you can fit into your bathing suit over spring break, I strongly encourage you to rethink this. I have a hunch that this motive falls into the “unspiritual attitude” category that brings out God’s cynicism. The object of Lenten denial is to express devotion for God, not adoration for the Sun god of Daytona Beach.

I’ve occasionally given up chocolate, Diet Dr. Pepper or desserts for Lent, but I must admit to mixed and self-serving motives. To my relief, God provides another fasting option; a “doing” fast rather than a “denial” fast:

"This is the kind of fast day I'm after: to break the chains of injustice, get rid of exploitation in the workplace, free the oppressed, cancel debts. What I'm interested in seeing you do is: sharing your food with the hungry, inviting the homeless poor into your homes, putting clothes on the shivering ill-clad, being available to your own families." (Isaiah 58:6-7 The Message)

Our Savior would say a rousing “AMEN!” to that:

“I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least
of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
Matthew 25:40 The Message

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