Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Fasting

Even though fasting is one of the most common expressions of spirituality you see in scripture, it seems so rarely practiced in the modern church in Canada. It's likely that you've participated in fasting at some point. But we're a far cry from the early church that fasted twice a week, the Israelite nation who all fasted together, or Jesus who fasted for forty days straight. For me, it wasn't until more recently that I began exploring the ancient practice of fasting and began to realize just how little I understood about the topic. So taking some time recently in my life to practice fasting in the wisest way I'm capable of, I hope that I can bring this one idea from my experience.

Our church has been serving meals in the downtown coming up on three years now. This has been a meaningful ministry for us since it began and has certainly helped us to get out of our comfort zones. There has always been gentle, genuine love in the act and service. I've seen it over and over again from the members of our church who serve. There's no judgment, and no vilification, just fellow people loved by God who don't have the means to feed themselves, and our capability as a church to do something about it.

There's nothing wrong in the motivation the execution of our ministry as I've seen it, except for the natural separation between us and them that just seems to come.

Maybe you've experienced this as well. There's the natural separation of us in the kitchen and them in the dining room, there's the physical barrier of the counter between us as we serve them food. But those have good reasons including health codes and issues of fairness of portions. These are understandable. The most significant point of separation actually comes down to something more basic. They're hungry and we're not. We have food at home and they don't. We probably ate lunch and breakfast that day. They will probably only eat this one meal all day. This is the most significant point of separation.

This is where fasting comes in. Fasting provides one of the greatest tools available to us for breaking down the barriers between the rich and the poor, the fed and the hungry. Fasting is the spiritual practice of those who have enough standing alongside those who don't. The last time we served our meal in the downtown I had spent the day up to that point fasting, for almost no other reason other than to be able to come to them understanding, just a little bit, their own personal experience. If I'm hungry with the hungry then I'm not 'with' the hungry, I'm 'one with' the hungry.

Fasting allows us to stand in solidarity with the poor and the hungry. We stand with them and tell them "You're not alone, we're here with you. We choose to be here with you."

Fasting is best experienced as a response to the sacred, a response the grievous things in this world. Sometimes we see hunger, or we experience the loss of a loved one. In those moments of sacred grievous loss it can naturally feel that going without food just seems like the right thing to do. This is the purest form of fasting, as a response to the sacred grievous things in life. If you were to look at scripture you would see that theme. Fasting always comes as a response in scripture. A response to a sickness, a loss, a defeat, a sorrow, a glorious experience of God or some other great moment always precedes fasting. The primary motivation for me has been a response to the hunger not just in the world all over, but even just in the city in which we live.

I would encourage anyone thinking about practicing fasting to find advice and support in the practice. Understand that fasting is naturally harmful to the body and can cause severe health problems if done incorrectly.

For more discussion on fasting we'll be looking at these questions:

  1. What have been your misunderstandings about fasting in the past?
  2. Have you practiced fasting before? What is your opinion of fasting based on that experience?
  3. Which is more significant to you with fasting, the Reward or the Response?
  4. Which is the most significant purpose for fasting to you?
    1. As a reminder? (What would you be trying to remember?)
    2. As creating the ability to give? (What and how?)
    3. To stand in solidarity? (With who, over what?)
  5. What is your opinion of practicing a common fast as part of our ministry feeding the hungry?

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