Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Faith Works 4-21

Faith Works 4-21-12

Jeff Gill


Slow down a little by fasting




Christians are still in the season of Easter; Lent leads up to it, and we're still celebrating the Resurrection through Pentecost for 50 days.


It's a good time to look back across our Lenten journeys, and ask "what worked? what helped? what built up the Body of Christ for my faith community?"


On a purely personal level, I tried something different this year, but something that is in fact very old. I tried fasting.


Most of us have heard of "giving up" something for Lent, as a way to refine our prayer life and discipline our thoughts and impulses and reactions. Some choose a sweet or treat, and for years I'd give up my beloved coffee every other year.


One of those in-between, "let's not make an empty ritual of the coffee thing" years, I gave up French fries. When I would have had fries with that, I didn't, and made those cravings a reminder to pray for those without (fries or more than that, of course), and saved some money to add to the special relief offering that year. $50, in fact.


What I learned was that I really didn't "need" French fries, and while I'm in no way a total abstainer, I mostly don't order them anymore. I'm not saying it's a God thing, just that I learned and my doctor seems to agree I've benefited from that step of living mindfully.


So this year, having had friends and fellow clergy talk about the discipline of fasting, I decided to try it. One day a week, through Lent.


The day ended up being nudged about a bit, because there's always the challenge of social eating and meetings, and my goal was not to draw attention to what I was doing (said the guy who's now writing a column about this, but still), and so I moved back and forth between Tuesdays and Wednesdays. Tuesdays were a good day also for the home front, because those evenings are often either leftovers or sub sandwich for the Lad, and the Lovely Wife usually has a prayer group she's at. Through Lent, I only ended up fasting through a family meal once – again, by design, because I didn't want them to feel pressured by my choice.


And some might dispute my approach, but for me, fasting was not eating "stuff." I drank fruit and vegetable juice each morning, more late in the afternoon, and all through consumed the finest organic suspension ever invented, as Capt. Janeway once said of coffee. No Gandhi-esque water only for me (though Gandhi usually balanced in some juice when he fasted, too, but not always).


Did I feel it? Sure. Not eating, intentionally, is a real attention getter inside your own head, at least at first. You start really, REALLY noticing every time you DON'T eat.


But the other thing I noticed, and let's be fair, I'm a 6'5" male with plenty of excess stored energy, was that mostly, I wasn't all that hungry. I wanted to eat, yes, but even towards evening, I wanted to eat mainly because . . . I wanted to eat.  The time seemed right, it was a moment I often checked the pantry for a bite anyhow, or circumstances had me thinking "oh, let's just eat something now rather than deal with this next thing."


Once you move past, or perhaps I should say "move along with" the impulse to eat, you still feel the nudges, but much less anxiously. And then you're able to look much more critically at WHY you want to eat when you do, and that can be instructive [koff*snackfood*koff].


Did this practice, which John Wesley observed every Wednesday and Friday of his life as a minister (note to all clergy, Methodist or otherwise: never try to out-anything John Wesley did, he's always going to be out there ahead of you), help my prayer life? Yes it did. It made me aware, conscious, mindful of many habitual behaviors I didn't even know I had.


It went beyond "the day," too; the day before, I was more healthily attentive to what I ate (gonna fast tomorrow), and the day after, I found I wasn't waking up wanting to wolf down mass quantities, and was very content with easing back in.


Will I continue? Right now, yes. Two more weeks, two more fast days, and I think I like what I'm realizing, how I'm becoming more mindful of my choices and expenditures and compulsions. All of which does just what we've heard for generations is why we talk about "prayer and fasting." They're a good team.


Jeff Gill is a writer, storyteller, and supply preacher around central Ohio; he is neither a vegetarian nor health food fanatic (all things in moderation!). Send him recipes at or follow Knapsack @Twitter.

No comments:

Post a Comment