"What He ordains for us each moment is what is most holy, best, and most divine for us." Jean-Pierre de Caussade

Friday, March 7, 2014

A Different Kind of Fast

Okay, so I will be the first to admit I am NOT good at this fasting thing. I can pretty much avoid the discipline throughout the year, put it aside like it doesn't exist -- or matter, until, that is, Lent comes around and "fasting" is the called-for discipline. For some reason, I can't get the upper hand on this one. When I try to implement fasting, it always seems to get the upper hand on me. The practice becomes all consuming, an idol, if you will. Surely that is not the point nor the purpose. So what is? 

Jesus said, "If anyone wants to be a follower of Mine, let them deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Me" (Luke 9:23). That's pretty strong language, and taken out of context can wreak havoc because we, I, tend to focus on the "deny" part as if it were something good in and of itself. In doing that, we are saying God is most pleased with us when we are giving ourselves a hard time and that He measures our holiness by our ability to endure suffering. What a distorted view.

Maybe what Jesus asks of us is that we renounce those things that deaden us so that we can live more fully -- for Him and for others. Gerard W. Hughes writes, "To live more fully we must free ourselves from self-preoccupation so that we can delight in his creation, know ourselves as at one with it, and see our lives as a gift given to us so that others may live more fully."

Is that not what Isaiah penned in chapter 58 verse 3? The Israelites cried out, "Why do we fast, but You do not see? Why humble ourselves, but You do not notice?" And God answered, "Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day." 

Listen, whereas fasting from food or Facebook or whatever we name or choose can be very beneficial to both our spiritual and physical lives, God does not want nor appreciate phony religion. What He calls as a fast and "true religion" is standing in profound solidarity with the needy. "Is not this the fast that I choose," He says, "to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?" James 1:27 is an echo: "Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world."

Timothy Radcliffe in his book Taking the Plunge, wrote, "The monastic discipline of fasting was not so much about not eating, as being at ease in eating, eating what was put before you, eating together in gratitude, eating no more than your body needs. It is opening one's eye to the food on one's plate."

Opening one's eye to the food on one's plate. Yes, such "fasting" and neighbor love delights Him and brings the immediate attentiveness and presence of God. Now that's a different kind of fast. Think about it.

Just an ordinary Lenten moment...

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