Eating is fantastic. It is one of my favourite things to do. Food is also central to a lot of what we do as a church - some of our most significant moments have happened around a table. And so we try to gather around a table as church often, sharing food together. Food, glorious food.
This week though, we’re going to spend 24 hours NOT EATING. No food.
This week we’re going to be fasting.
For me that’s going to look like eating nothing and drinking only water in the 24 hours before we gather as a church at 8pm on Wednesday evening. For some people it might look like missing one meal, or eating only bread and water, or cutting out certain foods for the day, or fasting something other than food.
Why On Earth Are We Doing This?
Fasting is a spiritual practice. It can be a helpful way of focussing on God, creating intention around prayer, and creating space to listen and notice. It's also a way to respond to the pain we will inevitably feel as we try to follow Jesus in this world.
When I’ve fasted before, it’s usually either been around a time of discerning the way ahead (making a big decision) or to help me focus on noticing and listening to God. It's not been about creating personal suffering and misery to teach myself a lesson, or to remind me of my dependance on God.
But maybe there is something about removing the distraction and the short lived comfort of food which I so often use to numb what's really happening in my soul.
What's it like?
Most of the times I’ve fasted, I’ve found it difficult. Really difficult. I’ve been grumpier, snappier and more sarcastic than normal. It has not been fun. And just think of those tens of meals I’ve missed over the years...
I haven’t heard big prophetic voices, or had major revelations.
But, I have found fasting to be a helpful practice in centering myself and my focus. I’ve found it helpful to cut through some of the noise.
I’ve felt connected with God, and with the people fasting alongside me. I’ve felt nudged in the right direction, and have made some of those big decisions following periods of fasting. I have come to appreciate the practice.
With fasting comes an invitation (or three)
For me, fasting this week represents three things (which I’ll expand on in a minute):
- An invitation to hope
- An invitation to reexamine
- An invitation to be a part
All of those invitations are present all the time anyway - there’s nothing magical about fasting in that sense. But I feel like fasting is a helpful way of pulling those invitations into sharp focus.
And so, I invite you to join me in fasting next week, whether you are a part of our church community or not. I invite you to hope, to reexamine and to be a part in this way next week.
Invitation To Hope
One thing that happens every time I’ve fasted, sometimes even before I’ve started, is that I dream about the food I’m going to eat when I’m done. Even a single day without food and my mind goes there. I can’t seem to help it.
I can’t help but think about the promise of what’s to come, the good that isn’t here yet. I can’t help but hope.
Covid-19 and lockdown with all the uncertainty, disruption and grief that brings perhaps makes hope seem even more important than normal.
We are invited to hope.
We are invited to imagine the good that is to come, to position ourselves ready to receive it and to bring it into life.
In practical terms, eating and preparing food takes time. If you’re fasting for the day, it’s likely that you’ll spend less time doing those things. That might enable a bit of time out that you wouldn’t have during a normal day.
There is an invitation to use that time (and any other time during the day) to hope, to dream, to pray. Maybe to write or draw or create. You are invited to hope for what is to come. The next delicious meal you’ll eat, yes of course. And the world you hope is coming too.
Invitation To Reexamine.
Anyone who has tried to significantly change their diet will know that even when our minds are set on something, our bodies can take a while to catch up. In my experience cutting out sugar, or caffeine for instance, is harder to do than it feels like it should be. Our bodies long for what they are used to. No matter what our values are, or the conviction in our hearts, acting consistently in line with them can be an entirely different thing.
The body craves for what it expects.
If we fast for a day we’ll most likely create the same sort of longing in our bodies. The longing for sustenance, something to fill our bellies, for energy in the form we are used to. Choosing to delay meeting that longing is hard. It’s painful. It’s uncomfortable.
Experiencing that unmet longing in my body is one of the most powerful aspects of fasting for me. I find the physical discomfort of an empty stomach a good reminder to ask these sorts of questions:
- What else does my body/being long for?
- Am I meeting those longings?
- Am I doing that in a way that is healthy, and helpful?
- Is there anything I want to change?
For me in fasting there is an invitation to reexamine. What do I long for? Where do I see the possibility of change? Where are my actions and my values misaligned? Perhaps questions like these feel more poignant now than usual.
The pangs of hunger you feel over the day are an invitation to reexamine what you would like to go back to when normality resumes.
Invitation To Be A Part
When we moved to Exeter back in January 2013 we had a 200 mile trip to get here. After doing the reverse journey the day before with an empty van, we loaded up and headed to Devon. We were, of course, greeted by rain and drizzle (which actually went on for another 12 days without stopping - it was Devon in the winter after all)
That evening we unloaded the van and carried everything up the 11 steps to our front door, in the rain. We were tired, fed up and ready to stop.
As we got to nearer the end of the van we got to the extra fun big and bulky bits of furniture. Just before tackling the oversized sofa a friend, who was very generously helping us, said to me in his thick Scottish accent “these are the days that form us”. Those words have stuck with me.
With rain and sweat dripping from our faces, lugging a ridiculous amount of stuff up a flight of stairs, we were suffering together. And it was shaping us.
There was something about choosing to do that together that was significant. There was something about it feeling difficult and tiring, and committing to it anyway, that brought us together.
In the grand scheme of things I know that moving house doesn’t really constitute suffering, no matter how many steps there are up to the front door. But in that moment it felt hard.
In the same way, voluntarily giving up food for a day when you know there is plenty waiting for you on the other side doesn’t really stack up against what we might see if we take just a moment to look around at the world we live in. However, for most of us fasting for a day will be hard. It will be suffering.
There is something significant about choosing to do that together. Even if fasting feels like a crazy, religious, outdated or pointless thing to be doing, standing with others that you trust who feel like it is important, is a powerful thing to do.
And so, in fasting this week there is an invitation for you to be a part.
There is an invitation to take your seat at the table and to join with something bigger than you. There is an invitation to suffer together, to stand together and to join together as one.
Want To Join Us?
So, if you would like to fast with us on Wednesday you are welcome to join us.
Whether any, or all, of the invitations above resonate with you or you want to join us for any other reason, you are welcome.
Fasting for a day feels like an achievable amount of time for me, but if achievable for you looks longer, shorter, or different, of course that’s ok. I usually have enough willpower to get through 24 hours (and for me it often does feel like “getting through”). So that’s what I’m going to do.
We’re going to gather at 8pm on Wednesday on zoom where we’ll have a chance to share some thoughts or reflections, then will break fast with communion together. Whether you fast or not, you are welcome to join us there too.