One day some people said to Jesus, "John the Baptist’s disciples fast and pray regularly, and so do the disciples of the Pharisees. Why are your disciples always eating and drinking?" Jesus responded, "Do wedding guests fast while celebrating with the groom? Of course not. But someday the groom will be taken away from them, and then they will fast." The Gospel of Luke
Abba Poemen heard of someone who had gone all week without eating and then had lost his temper. The old man said, "He could do without food for six days, but he could not cast out anger." The Sayings of the Desert Fathers
There's plenty of food around the office today. There were cupcakes in the breakroom for a colleague's birthday--with icing and decorations. There's a virtual cornucopia of bagels in another department with whipped cream cheese ready to spread. It's 12:30, time for lunch.
Why did I choose today to fast?
I fasted, probably for the first time as a personal choice, about a year ago. I felt compelled again to do so. For much the same reasons too I suppose. Although it was not so intentional this time. It was not with a specific objective in mind, only a vague conviction that I should. After reading that saying from the Desert Fathers last night, something stirred in me. This morning I was only reminded of it, as if by the Spirit, as I walked in to the kitchen for breakfast. It had been a passing thought last night, but the reminder of it this morning seemed to affirm the necessity for it.
When I saw the cupcakes in the breakroom, I immediately grabbed one. Walking back to my desk I remembered my decision and returned it.
My stomach has been gnawing at me all morning, reminding me. Fasting certainly does that. It is an ongoing concious choice. I am continually reminded throughout the day of what I have committed to do. It does not escape far from my mind. There are bite-size candy bars in my candy dish. I eye them every time I leave my office. As I'm working through papers, writing emails, or pulling together some information for a project, my mouth is aching for something substantial to chew on. Until you experience it yourself, it's hard to really understand.
My stomach aches, my mouth longs for substance, and a dull headache reminds me that, for some reason, I am fasting. A colleague walks by, then returns to grab a piece of candy, no, a different piece instead, and I am reminded.
I am doing it I suppose for a number of reasons:
(1) I am aware of how often my will is subject to my feelings--both physical and emotional. And food, I have learned--being well-fed--plays a big part in my emotional status, not just my physical satisfaction. So I am doing this to reinstate my will in authority over my feelings and desires.
(2) I am aware of how culture is driving my desires--not just for food but for relationships. I am doing this to remind myself in a tangible way that I need not be subject to unrealistic expectations created by what culture is feeding me. I need not grow fat on the sugar-rich images I'm shown and the shallow-but-emotionally-satisfying stories I'm told.
(3) I am aware of how distracted I am by the many sensory inputs in my life: television, internet, magazines, etc. I am doing this to bring focus. And it certainly does that. My mind is distracted from distractions by being focused on this one thing: my hunger.
(4) But that is not where it stops. For my hunger, my emptiness, my need, is not without a reason. Every moment that I am reminded of my hunger, the next moment is a reminder of whom I am doing it for. Amid all the distractions, this hunger returns my focus to God, for whom I have chosen to hunger.
(5) And I suppose that leads me to a final thought: that whether I eat or drink, or whatever I do, it is all supplied by God alone. He alone sustains my life, my emotions, my relationships. All these things which I feed myself to stay alive come from the cornucopia that is from God's hand. Whether I have plenty or live in want, I am learning that contentment is from God, not from satisfaction of my emotions or my stomach.
The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop. He thought to himself, What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops. Then he said, This is what I'll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I'll say to myself, "You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry." But God said to him, "You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?"