Sunday, March 01, 2009

Slowly learning the meaning of fasting...

I've come to the conclusion that I have never really understood what 'fasting' is. I mean sure I've known what the word means, I've probably heard and read what learned people have to say on the subject and I've even made a few sad attempts at actually doing it myself. But really getting to the root of it all......has somehow escaped me. I say 'somehow' like I don't know what it is....lets be honest here. This is a result of my immaturity and lack of self discipline. Lately the subject has come up again and again and it seems to be getting my sincere attention now. I've also been contemplating on the vast difference between dieting and fasting. The staff at Wisdom has challenged each other to a weight loss/get healthy competition this Lent and we are serious. But where and how does our call to fast fit in there. I know that it's not the same to try and lose weight and to offer sacrifice, although trying to lose weight can be a great sacrifice.
I think the first nudge for me this Lent to understand fasting better was Pope Benedict's Lenten Message for 2009. He says, "In the New Testament, Jesus brings to light the profound motive for fasting, condemning the attitude of the Pharisees, who scrupulously observed the prescriptions of the law, but whose hearts were far from God. True fasting, as the divine Master repeats elsewhere, is rather to do the will of the Heavenly Father, who “sees in secret, and will reward you” (Mt 6,18)"
Fasting is to rid ourselves of those things that keep us from God. We must fulfill the desire for those earthly goods with the ultimate good of presence with God. (see the quote at the top of this blog). Ultimately fasting is a way to train our bodies to reject sin.
He points out how the early Church fathers spoke of Adam and Eve's 'eating the apple' as the first rejection of a call to fast. I have never made this connection before and it is blowing my genesis loving mind right now. How can we fill our sensual desires with the love of God? Not as some sort of awkward thing that is posited onto our humanity but as a real and specific answer to the question of our specific desire?! This is a point that deserves lots of thought and meditation. Or maybe it is a point that requires that I jump right in and experience it for myself.
I suggest that you read his whole Lenten address. Here is a sample...

"We might wonder what value and meaning there is for us Christians in depriving ourselves of something that in itself is good and useful for our bodily sustenance. The Sacred Scriptures and the entire Christian tradition teach that fasting is a great help to avoid sin and all that leads to it. For this reason, the history of salvation is replete with occasions that invite fasting. In the very first pages of Sacred Scripture, the Lord commands man to abstain from partaking of the prohibited fruit: “You may freely eat of every tree of the garden; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall die” (Gn 2, 16-17). Commenting on the divine injunction, Saint Basil observes that “fasting was ordained in Paradise,” and “the first commandment in this sense was delivered to Adam.” He thus concludes: “ ‘You shall not eat’ is a law of fasting and abstinence” (cf. Sermo de jejunio: PG 31, 163, 98). Since all of us are weighed down by sin and its consequences, fasting is proposed to us as an instrument to restore friendship with God. Such was the case with Ezra, who, in preparation for the journey from exile back to the Promised Land, calls upon the assembled people to fast so that “we might humble ourselves before our God” (8,21). The Almighty heard their prayer and assured them of His favor and protection. In the same way, the people of Nineveh, responding to Jonah’s call to repentance, proclaimed a fast, as a sign of their sincerity, saying: “Who knows, God may yet repent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we perish not?” (3,9). In this instance, too, God saw their works and spared them."

What are your experiences and thoughts about fasting?