Monthly Archives: February 2013

Fast Food Fast

I know it’s not popular in our health-conscious times, but I’m just gonna’ lay it out there. I like fast food. I do. Really.  I like the grease and the salt and the cheap over-processed redundancy of it all. I know, I know, cholesterol and sodium and transfats, blah, blah, blah. I get it. I do. I’m just sayin’, give me a choice between shopping-cooking-cleaning and driving down the street to Taco Bell, I’m going with Taco Bell every time.

Which is going to make this Lent very interesting at the Casa de Jorge. Because we’ve decided our family will give up fast food for Lent. Yep, we’re going on a 40 day fast food fast.

While giving up things for Lent still carries some weight in the liturgical Churches (Orthodox, Catholic, Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist), Fasting as a spiritual discipline has almost disappeared. Which is odd, because what do we think we’re doing when we give up something for Lent?

Fasting is not just for super-Christian weirdos. Fasting is a spiritual discipline Jesus intends us to practice. Fasting is so normative to Jesus that he never even instructs his followers to fast. He simply assumes they will. “When you fast,” he says (Mt 6:16-17). When, not if.

So what is fasting? In its most basic form, fasting means simply to refrain from food for spiritual reasons. In Scripture, fasting consists of giving up all nutrition, including food and drink, except for water. Today, we might talk of “fasting” from any number of things: a particular food or beverage, a favorite restaurant, electronics, or even social media. While some might argue that true fasting encompasses only food or drink, I think the reason for fasting is more important than the what.

Richard Foster states, in his life-altering book Celebration of Discipline, “More than any other Discipline, fasting reveals the things that control us” (p 55). You see, we accumulate things and practices in our lives which shield us from the reality of spiritual situation. You think you’re a nice person? Try not eating for 24 hours and see how nice you are. You give thanks you’re not an addict? Drink nothing but water for a few days and see how you feel. Certain you, of all people, are not consumed by Facebook? Put your account on hold for a week. Go on, I dare ya’. Fasting is like stripping away layers of clothing from your soul. Good or bad, we all look different naked.

But fasting is not just about stripping away. Fasting is also about adding something. If you have a big tree stump in your backyard and you finally pull it up and haul it away, you’re left with a gaping, ugly hole. Well, that hole is going to be filled with something — rainwater, kids’ toys, weeds. Unless and until you decide to fill it with something else. The key to fasting is filling the hole with God.

If you dig a hole in your life by not eating for a day, don’t just sit there whiny and complaining. Every time you feel a hunger pang, fill that hole with prayer. Pray for people who don’t have enough food, give thanks for the food you do have, ask God to help you control your body instead of letting your body control you. If you strip away lunch each day for a week, then fill that lunch hour with Bible study. Go online, bring your Bible to work, meet with a friend. Don’t just sit at your desk feeling sorry for yourself. If you dig a hole in your life by cutting out Facebook, fill that hole with acts of service. Spend your Facebook time caring for your family, doing a favor for a friend or reaching out to a neighbor.

In many ways, it doesn’t matter what kind of fast you take. Fast from food for a day. Fast from eating lunch for a week. Fast from listening to talk radio for a month. Fast from fast food for Lent. Just fast. Dig a hole in the days of your life, and fill that hole with God.

— Foster, Richard J.. Celebration of Discipline. Harper San Francisco, 1978.

Lent is for Suckers

Lent is for suckers. I remember thinking that as a boy whenever some well-meaning adult cajoled me into giving up bubble gum or Cheetos or chocolate. Made no sense to me at all. Give up bubble gum for Jesus? During baseball season? Why, does Jesus want some gum? He made everything, right? So can’t He just make his own?

I wonder if that’s what the world thinks of Lent these days. Ashes on the forehead, giving up lattes, eating fish on Fridays. Lent? Lent is for suckers.

And of course the world is right. But right for all the wrong reasons. Lent IS for suckers. Those sucked into the whirlwind of half-truths and busy-ness that make up our lives these days. Those sucked into believing this life lasts forever and none of it is their fault. Those sucked into spending more time and energy pretending they’re right instead of admitting their wrongs. Suckers like you. And me.

So let’s talk about Lent. Lent is the 40 day season on the liturgical calendar between (the season after) Epiphany and Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday and ends on Holy Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday). You might notice there are 46 actual days on the calendar between Ash Wednesday and Easter. That’s because you don’t count Sundays as part of Lent. Lent is a season of fasting and penitence. And Sundays are always days of feasting and joy, Sundays are the Lord’s day, 1/52nd of Easter. So you remove the 6 Sundays between Ash Wednesday and Easter and end up with 40 days. Not insignificantly, these 40 days mirror the 40 days of Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (Mk 1:12-13), the 40 days Moses spent on the mountain with the Lord (Ex 24:18), the 40 days it rained on Noah (Gen 7:12) and even the 40 years Israel spent in the desert (Deut 8:2).

Lent is a season of penitence and fasting. It is a time of re-collection, when once again we remind ourselves of who our selves really are. Lent is a season of humility. Not bad-relationship, wipe-your-feet-on-me, barely hidden self-loathing kind of humility (which isn’t humility at all, but a perverse inversion of pride). But a truly biblical humility where we recognize  we are not the center of the universe, others don’t exist for our pleasure and we are not God. As the fabulous Mr. Warren has said, “It’s not about you.” Biblical humility involves knowing that we are creature, created and creating, yet not Creator. (Here’s a quick way to check and see if you are God: speak something into being from nothing. If it works, ascend immediately to your heavenly throne. If it doesn’t, get in line with the rest of us to receive your ashes.)

Ashes are a sign of mortality and penance. We are marked with a cross of ashes on Ash Wednesday to remind us of our own certain demise. Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. From dust we were formed (Gen 2:7) and to dust we shall return.

Penitence is the act of recognizing our wrong-doing and working to set it right. If you cannot directly amend that which you have broken, then do something else in its place. Acts of service, or devotion, or prayer can all be penance. We’re not talking about self-flagellation, we’re talking about a sacred apology.

Fasting is the act of giving up something in order to grow spiritually. If you give up meat in order to lose weight, that’s not a fast. That’s a diet. If you give up caffeine in order to break your addiction to Diet Coke, that’s not a fast. That’s torture. Fasting is letting go of one thing in order to gain a closer relationship with God. There are all sorts of Fasts, and you can learn more about Fasting in my post “Fast food Fast”.

If Lent is for suckers, then I am a sucker indeed. Ashes–Penance–Fasting. These are tools I use to come back to God. I love Lent because of its terrible honesty, reminding me how often I choose the pretty lie instead of the ugly truth. I need Lent, as yet another way to say yes to God. Yes, I regularly put myself in God’s place. But I am not God. Yes, I too often choose the easy over the right. But I am wrong. Yes, I consume to excess in order to hide from God, others and myself. But I am not a consumer.

I’m just another sucker.

I invite you, therefore, in the name of the Church, to the
observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and
meditating on God’s holy Word.

(1979 Book of Common Prayer, p265)

%d bloggers like this: