Fasting through Lent
Fasting is one of the most common and visible practices of Lent. It is one of the fundamental practices of Lent, recommended or even required in varying degrees by many denominations. Many Catholics abstain from meat on Fridays through all of Lent. The Orthodox churches take on a progressive fast, simplifying and restricting their diet more and more each week of Lent.
So what exactly is fasting? In the most literal sense it means refraining from eating. But thousands of years of tradition have given us many variations on what fasting can look like. Many now fast from things other than food, like caffeine, alcohol or media. Or give up certain types of food, usually particularly rich or extravagant foods.
So why in the world would we do this? Well, at the most basic level, we do it because it is a biblically recurring practice. Kings, prophets and even whole nations have fasted to show repentance or to prepare themselves for some great calling or event. Jesus himself fasted in the desert for 40 days in a time of preparation for his ministry.
We fast to take seriously our bodies as a part of us. We are not souls inhabiting a fleshy machine or a mind being carried about in a vehicle of blood and bone, instead we are some mix of all of these, a mind, a body, a soul, inseparable and interwoven. How we treat our bodies and what happens to them will affect the state of our minds and souls. We pray with our bodies. We preach with our bodies and we serve with our bodies. If we ignore them in our life with God we are leaving a part of us behind.
We fast to take God’s blessings more seriously. Many of us fast from things which are not inherently bad, like caffeine or meat, to be reminded of the goodness of God in giving us those things. When we have an uninterrupted flow of something we can be tempted to forget its source and become unthankful and entitled. We forget that the good things we have are a blessing and not a thing we have earned or required. Fasting helps reset us to 0,0. So we can see things where they really are and not where our skewed perspective puts them.
Finally, We fast to free ourselves for devotion to God. Many good things can become sinful if we let ourselves become reliant on them. They become one more barrier to our love and devotion, one more piece of baggage we are carrying. Many of us are literally addicted to things like sugar, caffeine, social media or technology. A dependence which should be reserved for God and a dependence which the world can use to twist you around. When we fast we invite God into our lives to free us from good things which have overtaken us.
Fasting reminds us of our bodies, reminds us of our blessings and invites God to free us from addictions and burdens in our day to day to life. When we fast we are joining with thousands of years of Saints and believers who have gone before and millions of Christians around our present world who also yearn to grow closer to God. And fasting doesn’t have to end with Lent. Through Lent we have been assembling a series of spiritual disciplines to carry with us all year. Fasting, prayer, bible study, silence, we take these with us to continue to grow in our faith and devotion all year.